Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Vote for PRODIGAL for Cover of the Month

So a few weeks back I was approached to enter the cover of Prodigal in a monthly contest at It IS gorgeous ain't it?

I've been a bit of a dark horse in the competition, shooting from near the bottom of the list to #15.

The cover needs to be in the top 12 to make it to the final week. The top 3 win and get some free promotion.

I could use all the votes and signal boosting I can get to stay in this. If I rack up enough of a following, I'll start using that site for more promotions and a newsletter.

Show your support here...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How To Format Your Self-Published Book

So you've finished editing your novel. Now you want to format it for both e-book and paperback distribution. Read on, my self-reliant friend.

There is a metric megaton of guides on the interwebs for how to format. I've compiled the useful advice I found along with injections of my own experience for my own benefit as much as anyone who stumbles upon this.

I went into this with every intention of presenting a simple straight list of steps to follow because so many of these guides seem overwhelming. The thing is... while formatting does take a keen eye for detail and above average patience, it's really not THAT hard. You just have to understand some basic concepts of using styles.

The one simplified list I did find only confused me even more until I found out why they did things the way they did. There are no shortcuts, kids. Sorry. You want to do it quick or you want to do it right?

Here's the breakdown...

Step 1: Clean the Slate
Step 2: Format Your Pages (Print book only)
Step 3: Format Your Paragraphs
Step 4: Format Your Chapter Headings
Step 5: Format Your Scene Breaks (if you have any)
Step 6: Format Your Front and Back Matter
Step 7: Format Your Page Numbers (Print book only)
Step 8: Proof, Revise, Rinse, Repeat
Step 9: Navigation (E-Book only)

It might seem like a lot, but once you do it the first time and you understand why you're doing it, every other time will take like 20 minutes (except probably step 8).

And if you think this post is long, try reading the Smashwords Style Guide. OMFG!

Before you dive in...

There are couple things I should probably mention up front.

Use Microsoft Word

There's a lot of hate out there for MS Word. Trust me I get it. There are better programs out there. But it's what the industry uses. As much as I wish they'd come to their collective senses and use Open Office, they don't. 

You just have to learn how to make Word behave, which I'll help you do. My screen shots are from Word 2010. All of the features are available in previous versions, just located in a different tab or menu.

If you are really that dead set against kissing Bill Gates' ring, everything I spell out here CAN be done in other programs, too. I have to leave it to you to figure out where those menus are exactly. Just keep in mind that .doc or .docx are the only formats many places will even accept. And I learned the hard way that saving in this format using other programs is not always reliable.

Important caveat: Smashwords only accepts files in .doc format (not docx). So you have to save as type "Word 97-2003" first.

Now if you only get one thing out of this post, make it this...

This linefeed screwed up
ALL of my front matter pages.

Everything is a STYLE

This is the key to everything, regardless of your software.

The concept primarily applies to e-books, but stray code artifacts and improper font and alignment changes could mess up the PDF conversion step for print books, too. 

Bottom line: Never use the little formatting drop-downs in the tool bar to manually add or remove an indent, or change alignment or the font. That overrides the style, which causes the conversion program to spit out garbage.

It IS okay to use the Bold, Italic, and Underline buttons, though. It's just the bigger changes that can cause screw ups.

What I do is make a bunch of standard styles up front and apply them when needed. Use the Manage Styles menu to set the Paragraph and Font settings for every section of the book.

In a fiction book, there really aren't that many...
  • Normal... 90% of your book (DON'T use Body Text. Just trust me)
  • Chapter Headings
  • Scene Break
  • Scene Start
There are more when you get into the Front and Back Matter, but we'll put a pin in that for now.

Note that Paragraph indents, alignment, and Font settings are really the ONLY things that should be changing. There's no need to mess with the rest once you do it at the beginning.

Oh, and, uh...

... well, two more things.

Pre-Formatting Decisions

Choose Your Trim Size (Print book only)

There are a bunch of different industry standard trim sizes. Most sites put 6"x9" as the default because it's considered "universal" but it's not. There are a ton of considerations, depending on the kind of book you are producing.

IMHO, 6"x9" looks amateur. Unless it's a comic book or non-fiction. 5"x8" seems to be popular, but I don't understand why. 

5.25"x8" is the same aspect ratio as a mass-market paperback. It feels more like a traditional book in your hand, even if it's a little bigger. And that extra quarter inch is nice for saving your page count, which helps with your print costs (and thus royalties).

It's also the most common suggestion for fiction books on every blog and article I checked.

Choose Your Font

If you are only publishing an e-book, you may not think you need to sweat this. Kindles just ignore font and default to Georgia (or whatever the user sets). Other e-readers let users change font, too, so why bother?  Because EPUB format uses embedded fonts and you don't want to punish those readers with a default like TNR 12 or Calibri 11.

There are thirty-three quadrillion suggestions on the best font for your book (I counted). For fiction thrillers, the one that kept coming up over and over was Garamond. It's free and I'm pretty sure comes standard in most word processors.

If you're in another genre, well... I wish I knew what to tell you. Georgia seems the next most popular. There are people far more educated on the subject than I who can give advice. 

The consensus that I came away with was don't get too fancy.

As for the size... remember that what you are seeing on the screen will look different on a physical page. When you are working on it, you may think you'll need to use 12pt to be as readable as the manuscript.  Don't. Unless your target market is the elderly or you're going with a larger trim size, then okay. With good line spacing (which I mention in step 4), 11pt is fine for a paperback. Maybe even 10 depending on the font.

Okay NOW here are the steps...

Step 1: Clean the Slate

If you are producing both a print book and an e-book edition, what I would do is format the print book first (you'll understand why later), then go back to the beginning and either modify what you did for digital, or more ideally create it from the ground up.

The reason is because your e-book upload needs to be free of ALL hidden code that might corrupt the conversion process. Working in an existing Word doc where changes to fonts, styles, indents, centering, etc have already been done runs the risk of leaving unwanted code fragments behind.

FIRST: Nuke the whole site from orbit

It's the only way to be sure. 

Smashwords does seriously call this the "nuclear option" which makes sense as an analogy on two levels if you think of all those pesky code fragments as aliens.

To wipe all formatting from the old copy of your file and start from scratch...

WARNING: This will eliminate all italics. So if you used any in the body of your work, you'll have to manually put them back in if you go this route (which, honestly, you still should).

This is how the e-book converter sees manually inserted
formatting changes
1. Save a backup copy!!
2. Open Notepad
3. Ctrl-A (select-all) from the OLD Word doc
4. Ctrl-C (Copy)
5. Paste into Notepad
6. Ctrl-A
7. Ctrl-C
8. Open a NEW blank Word doc
9. Ctrl-V (Paste)
10. Save!!

It should also go without saying that if you are doing both print and e-book, you keep one file for the printed format, and a separate file for your digital (I ended up with 3 files, because my Smashwords edition has an ISBN and a link to my profile, which you don't want in the KDP edition).

SECOND: Sweep for common editing errors 

Like cockroaches, even a nuke won't smite everything. Hopefully you caught all these in your editing, but just in case you didn't...

Click on the Show/Hide button (the little backwards P)

This lets you see all of the Paragraph markers, which is invaluable. You'll probably want to leave it on for the whole process.


1. Go to Find and Replace (ctrl-H, or click the dropdown on the Search bar).

Click More>>

Click Special -- Each of these special characters has a code that you can type in such as ^p if you are already familiar with them.

Replace ALL of the following...

  • (spacebar)(spacebar) => (spacebar)
  • Paragraph Mark(spacebar) => Paragraph Mark
  • -- (double hyphen) => Em dash
  • Tab Character => (blank)

2. Word sometimes gets confused with the curly quote at the end of sentences with dashes (which I use a lot because my characters are constantly interrupting each other.  There is no good way to Replace-All with those. Instead, do an Advanced Find on Em dash" and also on --" to locate and delete any quotes turned the wrong way. The trick to getting them to curl the right way is to...
  • Insert any letter after the dash
  • Type your end quote
  • Delete the letter
3. You may want to also manually scroll through to spot check for code. Keep an eye out for errant alignment changes or wacky code inserts. If you see a weird square on your page, kill it with fire.

4. At this point, you can go back through and do an Advanced Find to look for all Italics (using the Format button) in your original manuscript and put them back in on your formatted file. But personally I'd do that in the proof step at the end, since that can be tedious if you use them as much as I do (blame my start as a comic book guy).

Okay, so if you are only doing an e-book, skip to Step 3. Otherwise...

Step 2: Format Your Pages (Print book only)

This is a one-time setup for your paperback. E-books should only use the universal default of 8.5x11 paper with 1" margins all around.


2. Go into Page Settings and adjust the following,,,

Margins Tab: Set Top, Bottom, Inside, Outside, Gutter to your preference

Multiple Pages: "Mirror Margins"

What those margin widths should be depends on the trim size and how many pages are in your book. For a standard 5.25"x8", setting Top, Bottom, and Inside to .75 is comfortable on the eyes. The outside margin can be a little shorter, but no less than .5.

What's a Gutter?

Glad you asked. That's the area of the inside fold when you open up the book. You need to add extra padding in there so your print doesn't fade into the dark recesses of the spine.

How big should it be? No one seems to know. Not a lot. An extra 0.1" up to 0.15" depending on how thick the book will be (# of pages + weight of the paper).

For my 384 page book with cream paper, I set it to .14. That's a hair more than a lot of books, but it made my proof copy much easier to read. My father, who was a printer for 35 years, agreed.

Yes you can set Gutter to 0 and Inside to the full width if that's easier for you to wrap your head around.

Other important settings...

Page Tab: Paper Height and Width to match your trim size.

Layout Tab: Section Start = New Page

Header and Footer:  At most, 0.5" from the edge. Otherwise you are cheating yourself out of space for the main body. But at least .25" away to keep it from getting cut off during the printing process (and from making the page look off balance and cluttered).

Step 3: Format Your Paragraphs

Your primary goal in formatting is to make the book easy to read and comfortable on the eyes. That basically means square margins and good use of whitespace.

This is where you create your Styles, or at least your Normal style.
  1. Open the Styles Manager
  2. Click on the dropdown after Normal
  3. Modify
**Remember this menu for creating your other styles later.**

Go into Paragraph Settings in the Modify Style dialog box (click the Format button at the bottom) and adjust the following...

Alignment: JUSTIFIED (don't argue!)

Indentation/Special: First Line = 0.25" (I used 0.2 for the paperback to fit more words per page, but that looked barely indented on an e-reader, so I suggest the standard .25 for digital)

Line Spacing: 
  • PRINT: Multiple @ 1.15
  • E-BOOK: Single
  • BOTH: Before = 0, After = 0
  • "Don't add space between paragraphs" = Checked
In e-books, getting fancy will only screw up the conversion process. Keep it simple. The "At" field must be blank or weirdness will ensue. The e-reader makes these kinds of decisions.

For print books, there is some debate on line spacing. The smaller your font and trim, the more space between lines you will want. Single space looks way too noisy. Line spacing at 1.5 is way too big. Setting it at 1.2 is most popular. I went with 1.15 to save on page count as much as I could.

There is no debate over using indented paragraphs with no space between them for fiction, though. Block paragraphs with space between like you see on this blog is only for the internet, textbooks, and some nonfiction.

Oh yeah. The most important setting...

Widow/Orphan control: UNCHECKED

This feature might come in handy on a manuscript. But a professional looking book must have consistent bottom margins. 

"But Lance, now I've got all these ugly stray lines at the bot--"  I KNOW. I'm going to come back to this. Just trust me and uncheck the box. Get the nuts and bolts done first, then come back and clean it up.

Now at this point, your entire document should update to those settings. At least it SHOULD have defaulted to Normal when you pasted everything in. If it did not, or if you did not start with the nuclear option (why?), then...
  2. Apply Normal (using the Quick Styles at the top, or the Styles list).
Now let's make it pretty.

Step 4: Format Your Chapter Headings

There are very different approaches to this part for paperbacks and e-books.


There are 3 fundamental rules for Chapter Headings in a printed book.

1. New chapters begin roughly 1/3 the way down from the top of the page.
2. The first line of each new chapter should be flush left (not indented)
3. New chapters begin on an ODD numbered (right-hand) page

The first rule is easy to follow. When you create modify your style, click the Format button and select Paragraph. In that next window (same one where you set the Normal style), change these settings...

Alignment: Left
Indentation/Special: (none)
-- Before: 96 pt
-- After: 12 pt

Those numbers are just a guide to get 1/3 of the way down an 8" page, and may need to be tweaked for your font.

Remember your bottom margin should always be level on EVERY page. So you may need slightly less padding before and/or after the heading.

There are thousands of possibilities for what your chapter headings can look like. I've seen books that put them left, right, and center, higher, lower, slightly grayed out, bolder, italicized, plain text, different font, whatever. Then of course there are books that fill the top third of the page with some nifty quote. Knock yourself out.

Anyway, check the box to make it a Quick Style. That way it will remain in your toolbar, so applying it is easy.

The second rule is just as easy, now that you are using Styles instead of trying to manually change each paragraph.

Create a unique style called Chapter Start or Scene Start. Base it on Normal, but with Indentation/Special set to (none).

Make it a quick style, and apply it to the first paragraph of each chapter.

The third rule gets into the wizardry of Sections.

You want your reader to see the opening of a new chapter facing them from their right when they turn the page. Leaf through any professionally printed book if you don't believe me.

"But my chapters don't all magically end on even-numbered pages of your manuscript," you say? No problem. You just do ctrl-return to create a blank page right?

No, you don't want to do that. It will make setting page numbers a royal pain, and where your chapters end may end up changing if you do any more edits (which you will, see step 8).

Most Word users understand the idea of Sections, but none of them seem to know about this awesome trick.

1. Go to Page Layout
2. Click on the Breaks dropdown
3. DON'T click on Page
4. DON'T click on Next Page
5. Keep looking down.
6. Yeah... There ya go. Click on Odd page.

Now your chapter is guaranteed to land on the next odd numbered page following the end of the previous section without needing to add a bunch of extra breaks to force a blank page between chapters.

You're welcome.


Okay, so assuming you haven't been skipping the print-only sections... you need to strip out all of those nifty odd-page section breaks. Remember, manual alterations to anything will leave hidden code that will make your file choke during conversion. This is why you need to go back and start over with a blank slate if you formatted a print edition.

So skip ahead and finish your paperback before doing this part. I'll wait.

Back? Okay.

The first step is easy. Create a style called Chapter, like I outlined in The first rule above. Note that the font choices and spacing above the text will only really show up properly in EPUB, not on the Kindle, but that's no big deal. The heading will still show up larger than the text and be bold or italicized, which is enough.

Keep in mind: DO NOT use multiple linefeeds to try to force the Chapter Heading to start somewhere down the page. Every e-book format will get confused and either strip them, or insert an unwanted blank page. For the last time... EVERYTHING is a style.

Now for the fancy part.

In the virtual world of digital e-books, there is no page.

EPUB will, in fact, strip out all page breaks entirely. But Kindles and Nooks simulate page turns.

So you still want to make it so your chapters start on a new "page" (swipe-right) to give them the illusion of reading an actual book like they expect.

Here's how you do it...

1. Create a new style called New Page or Chapter Page
  • Click Format / Paragraph
  • Go to Line and Page Breaks tab
  • Check "Page break before"
2. Enter a blank line ABOVE your chapter heading

3. Apply your style to it.

I do this on the line ABOVE the chapter heading because of a weird quirk I discovered about navigation on Kindle, which I'll explain down in the last step at the end.

For now, just trust me.

Step 5: Format Your Scene Breaks (if you have any)

Most novels, especially thrillers, utilize scene breaks within a chapter to designate a shift in perspective or a time jump. In my case, I go all Inception and needed two different kind of scene breaks for my flashbacks and dream sequences.

There are a few conventions that often used.

1. Centered *** or ~*~
2. A blank line between paragraphs (assuming all other paragraphs are indented with no space between).

The first way is the clearest way to do a break. But be aware of the spacing you put above and below the characters. Too little will make the break look noisy. Too much could screw up your bottom margin.

Once you have the idea of setting Styles down, this is easy.

You can now either use Advanced Find and apply your new style to it, or use Replace / Format / Style to apply it to every *** in your doc at once.

The second way is much easier to implement, but it is potentially confusing to a reader if you end up with a blank line at the top or bottom of your page.

In my writing, I use the first for major scene shifts, and the second for minor jumps within a dream or flashback.

In either case, the FIRST paragraph following the break should be flush left. No indent. Use the Scene Start style you created in Step 4 or make a special style for it now...

1. Modify Style / Format / Paragraph
2. Name: Scene Start
3. Indentation / Special: (none)

Doing this is a time honored convention that helps the text flow. The purpose of the indent is to indicate a pause, so when there is a clear blank line above the paragraph, there is no need for that pause. It's also an additional signal to the reader.

One old school convention uses small caps for the first line or first few words of the first line. When I say old school, I mean the convention began with the first words ever printed by a typesetter, IN THE BEGINNING. Hope that tidbit helps in your next round of Trivial Pursuit.

I'm not a fan of it, but if you like that style, knock yourself out.

You'll have to edit every paragraph at the start of a chapter or scene break manually, but the good news is it's another case where you can highlight the text you want to tweak, right click, and choose Font to make the change. No style needed (besides the style to make it flush-left of course).

And that's it!

See? That wasn't as hard as you thought. Your book looks beautiful. We're done, right?

Step 6: Format Your Front and Back Matter

As you can probably deduce, Front and Back Matter is the stuff you put in the front of and back of your book. Every professionally published book has it. It typically includes...
  • Title Page
  • Copyright and Legal disclaimer
  • Published By and ISBN
  • Acknowledgements and Dedication
  • Other Books By You
  • Sneak peek or sample chapter of your next book
  • About the Author
The last two items almost always go in the back. A list of your other books sometimes goes up front, but keep in mind that in e-books, the front matter is often skipped. The title page, copyright, published by, ISBN, acknowledgements and dedication are always in front. It's still required to be there to be included in Smashword's premium catalog, but may never actually ever be read.

Just look at other books by major publishers to get an idea of what those pages should look like. For the purposes of formatting them, you basically need a few more custom styles.

  1. MAIN TITLE -- 36 pt font, centered
  2. Main Subtitle -- 12 pt font, italics, centered (for the slug line under your title)
  3. Author Name -- 18 pt font, centered 
  4. Front Matter Header -- 14 pt font, bold centered
    -- Format / Paragraph: Check "Page break before"
  5. Front Matter Body -- 11 pt font, centered
You get the idea. Note that the Front Page Header, which needs to start on a new "page" of an e-book, was basically done the same as Chapter Headings back in Step 4.

I actually used more styles than that even. For example, I did not have a header that said "Acknowledgement" or "Dedication" since it was obvious that's what they were. I created a style to make sure those paragraphs remained on their own "page" in the e-book like the headers, just with regular font.

But you figured that out on your own didn't you, because you've been paying attention.

Okay. We're in the home stretch...

Step 7: Format Your Page Numbers (Print book only)

With e-books, you have no idea what will end up on what "page" or even how many "pages" (er, flips of the screen) there will be, so numbering them is meaningless. Plus, your digital upload has to be free of all headers and footers to avoid conversion problems anyway.

But for print books, readers kinda need them.

There's one critical catch.... Your front matter and back matter should not be numbered the same as your actual story pages, if at all. And any pages left intentionally blank should be just that. Blank. Otherwise it looks amateur.

We already solved the problem of blank pages between chapters with the odd-page section break. Word will only number your actual document pages, not printed pages (do a print-preview to confirm).

But what about the front and back matter you just added?

This was easily the  most frustrating part for me to figure out because neither Word nor Open Office give you page by page level control over footers.

Then I discovered a magical flag in the Header/Footer Tools I never noticed before.

First... If you already have an odd-page section break at the beginning of your story (the Prologue or Chapter 1), cool. If not, then you need to insert a section break at the top.

Next... If you did not use the nuclear option and you already have page numbers from your manuscript, double click on the footer at the bottom of the first page of your story.

If you don't already have page numbers, go to the Insert tab from the first page of your story and click Page Number > Bottom of page.

My suggestion here is to just choose Plain Number 2 (the centered one). Keep the font of the number the same as your text, but shrink it down by a point or 2 so it's not obtrusive.

Finally... Note the little blue tab at the bottom of page 1 of your story should say -Section 2- (assuming you put all your front matter into a single Section 1).

With the footer section still open, go to the Design tab and make sure that Link to Previous is NOT highlighted.

You might need to go to the Page Number dropdown (left side of the Design tab) then Format Page Numbers, and specify the Start At: field to 1.

Then go up to your Front Matter pages and remove the page numbers from up there if there are any. (either go to Insert tab / Footer / Remove Footer, or double click in the footer and delete the page number).

Note that if you have a lot of front matter, changing the style to lower case roman numerals is an accepted convention. The same rule about blank pages being completely blank, including no page number, still applies. For fiction novels, I don't see any need to get that fancy.

Now jump down to the last page of your last chapter or Epilogue and basically do the opposite for the Back Matter pages.

1. Insert a section break for the back matter
2. Unlink the footer from the previous section
3. Delete page numbers from Back matter pages (or insert Roman numerals starting at i.)

Easy peasy.

Now for the really fun part.

Step 8: Proof, Revise, Rinse, Repeat

Whether converting to a print-ready PDF for your paperback, or converting to any digital format, PROOF YOUR WORK BEFORE AND AFTER UPLOADING!! Do not rely on the way it looks in the Word doc or your final product could end up looking sloppy.

There are different considerations for print and e-books.


If you haven't added your italics back in, do it now. This is a pretty manual process, but shouldn't take terribly long once you get into a rhythm.

1. Open your original manuscript or backup file.
2. Advanced Find / More>>
3. Format > Font
4. Under Font style: choose Italic

Click Find Next... jump that paragraph in your new formatted file, and change those words to Italic (using the I button in the Font toolbar at the top is okay)

So now your font, indents, and line spacing keep your text flowing nicely. Your chapter and scene breaks are how you want them. Now you can focus on cleaning up your paragraphs and bottom margins.

Back in Step 4 I mentioned Widow/Orphan control and the importance of square margins. If you look at your Print Preview, though, you'll see you have a ton of pages with one line of a paragraph separated out at the top or bottom.

Leaving your book like that is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. It's ugly and potentially confusing to a reader, especially on page turns. Not much screams amateur indie louder than those widows and orphans, and what I call hanging chads.

So yes. Seriously. Go back over EVERY page of your formatted draft to make sure the bottom margins line up, deleting or adding lines as needed. That is probably the biggest reason to format your book yourself. You're basically still editing, not just making it look pretty.

A "hanging chad" is when you have a line with just a single word or two tiny words of 5 total characters or less. Maybe that's just my own OCD hangup, but to me they disrupt the flow of the text to the point of being needlessly distracting. I wrote a whole blog post dedicated to pruning down your words if you're not sure what to look for to shave those off.

Use Print Preview for a truer rendering of what the final proof will look like, keeping in mind that the PDF conversion might still look slightly different.

For example... Try your best to avoid lines of dialog with end-quotes landing too close to the right margin of the page, especially on the last line of a paragraph.

I learned the hard way that MS Word's definition of "Justified" alignment is different than Adobe's. The PDF conversion will often stretch characters differently than Word did, even in print preview. So after all of your painstaking edits, your proof copy could end up with something like...

If you have Front or Back Matter that starts farther down than the top of the page (like Acknowledgement and Dedication are typically either centered or 1/3 the way down like Chapters), make sure that the TOP of those are at the same line, too. Little touches like that keep your book looking professional.

And don't forget to make sure that your Chapters really do start on odd pages, and that blank pages are completely blank, including no page numbers.


You won't have control over your margins on an e-reader, so try not to even think about them.

Things to keep an eye out for are...

1. Everything that is supposed to be centered is centered,
2. Your indents look good
3. There are no weird blank pages or screwy fonts,
4. Chapter headings look right and start on new "pages" in the MOBI version.

You'll want to make sure that all of your italics are back in, assuming you wiped them in step 1. I spell out a good way to do this in this step, a few paragraphs above the Winchesters screaming.

Not that this isn't a handsome
mug and all
If you have images... The first few people to download the Kindle edition of PRODIGAL were treated to a page where my publishing imprint logo and my headshot photo filled the whole screen. They were meant to be 100x125 pixels

So don't rely on Word to shrink the image down for you. It will look like you want it to in EPUB, but the image will blow up to original size on a Kindle, which is what the vast majority of your readers will see it on. The actual image file needs to be the pixel size you want it to appear in the e-reader window.

And finally...

LAST STEP: Navigation (E-Book only)

I mean it this time. This is the last step. I put it last because I wanted to end on a good note. But you could do this earlier in the process if you want.

So... you all understand the idea that all e-books should have built in navigation, right? If you didn't realize that already, you do now.

Consumers of e-books expect navigation in case they want to jump back to a previous chapter without having to flip every single page.

Too many people think this part is sooo complicated. The section dedicated to this in the Smashwords style guide is obscenely long. There's a painfully tedious video that they make you think you have to watch to understand it.

Let me save you a lot of time and boredom.  Now, technically navigation is done by way of a separate file within the zipped bundle of files that comprise your e-book, whether it be EPUB or MOBI or LRF, whatever. It's called an NCX file.

Who cares? The converter makes that file for you. The act of doing it in Word is the easiest frickin step!

Don't use Word's built in Table of Contents feature. That creates Microsoft code and Micorsoft code is of the Devil.

Set up a table of contents using bookmarks and hyperlinks. It's easy. Manual, but really easy once you get into a rhythm (which you will by the third chapter).


Do this for every page that you want there to be a navigation point (ie. Prologue, Chapters, Epilogue, About, Other Books)

1. Go to that blank line that I told you to insert ABOVE your chapter heading
2. Go to the Insert tab
3. Click Bookmark
4. Name your bookmark something logical (WITHOUT spaces in the name)
5. Rinse, repeat

Linked TOC

1. Jump to the last page of your Front Matter, before the Prologue or Chapter 1.

2. Type Table of Contents

3. Apply the style "Front Matter Header" that you created earlier to it. Now it's on it's own "page" of the e-book.

4. Enter a blank line. Apply style Front Matter to it, so now every line following will be centered on the same page.

5. Hit return, type Prelude (or Prologue, or Chapter 1, etc)

6. Highlight that line.

7. Go the Insert tab > Hyperlink

8. Link to: Place in This Document

9. Choose your Bookmark from the list

10. Click OK

11. Rinse, repeat

That's it.

The reason I did it this way is because when I put the bookmark right on the line that has the heading, like Smashwords tells you to do, this is what happened on my Kindle when I opened the book, or tapped any link.

It was supposed to look like the left, but it somehow came out looking like the right, with no formatting. No one on the KDP or Smashwords forums could explain why, so I came up with my own fix.

So now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Okay. You're done.

No really. Bye. Good luck.

Go publish so you can get started on your next book.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tips To Reduce Word Count

I am wordy. Like, really wordy. And I know I'm not alone. Admit it. We love our word play a little too much sometimes. As a friend of mine loves to put it, we like to smell our own farts.

So what do you do when you've finished your masterpiece, and you come to your senses about making someone slog through 500 pages of your drivel that you would be forced to price at $20?

Lots of well meaning bloggers (says the well meaning blogger) will tell you to eliminate damn near everything extraneous. Like we all must be Elmore Leonard clones.

Not to dismiss the late Mr. Leonard by any means. I just dislike the use of absolutes in his personal rules. There are many other variations on "Never do x" advice that make me cringe. For me, there's something to be said about strategically slowing the pace, or setting the cadence of your word flow, so don't feel obligated to cut every last damn adjective.

That said, a lot of what you wrote is probably expendable.

Major Pruning

For when you’ve gone 15K over your allowed word count, or you feel your finished novel is just way too long (like mine was).

1. Examine side journeys and subplots 

This can be the toughest one. Most great books are more memorable for their character moments, not their plots. We LOVE our characters. We don't want to neglect them, right?

But if it doesn’t advance your plot, it’s probably not necessary. If it develops your setting and your characters, it MAY be worth keeping, but not if it ends up feeling like filler. This may require a bit of untangling if the subplot is referenced a lot or had indirect impact on the main plot. But it will by far reduce more pages than nitpicking individual words.

2. Lose anything self-serving

You know that part that you’re just SOOOO proud of? That witty banter, that hysterical zinger, that esoteric reference that the hipsters in your audience will love. That moment when your words danced and your brilliance leapt off the page for the critics to marvel at. 

Yeah it probably sucked.

One pitfall along these lines is a compulsion by some to make political commentary. Assuming we're talking about non-political fiction, no one wants to read that crap. Especially not in our current cultural climate.

Sometimes a character’s politics is a defining element worth mentioning, but more likely it comes across as preachy to 40% of your potential audience. Ask yourself, does it add value to the story, or is it virtue signaling? Is it really worth risking a 1 star review?

3. Shorten descriptions

This is one where I definitely agree Elmore Leonard. Did you really need all those lines to describe that woman’s hair? Does the reader need THAT much detail about your character’s car? Or that store window? Did the bad guy’s ensemble really warrant a whole paragraph in his introduction? Probably not.

4. Minimize Exposition

Here's another one where I'll quote from Leonard's rules: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." A beta reader once described one of my chapters as drinking from a fire hose of exposition. Handled badly, exposition can be a pacing killer, and a waste of words.

Lean toward having actions reveal the background of your story. If you took a whole paragraph to explain something that becomes obvious later by what your characters say and do, you can probably cut it out.

Edge Trimming

For when you’ve formatted your book for print and you end up with a bunch of widows, orphans, and hanging chads (paragraphs with one tiny word on a line by itself). Or the end of your chapter goes all the way to the end of the page. Or for when you just want to ratchet things up and/or quicken the pace.

1. Beware filler words

Pretty much any word ending in –ly.
pretty much
around or about (as adjectives)
any verb followed by have or not (contractions are your friends)

2. Rework sentences that take the scenic route

Any time a character did this, then that:
... looked up and ...
... turned around and ...
... felt something happen
... saw something happen
... heard something happen
(unless conveying a sense of detachment from the action is important to the scene)

On a smaller scale, keep an eye out for ways to use words more economically. For example, reduce "get a message to me" to "reach me" or "dropped me off at home" to "took me home."

3. Shorten dialogue

Read the lines out loud and imagine yourself watching the scene play out in a movie. Are you having trouble following it? Are you bored by the end? Your reader will be, too. 

One thing I did quite a bit was combine short one liners into a longer quote. It’s good for rounding up orphans, and it often makes the exchange flow more naturally.

4. Sidebar: Adding lines

Sometimes your solution to widow/orphan control is to add a line. Maybe you have a paragraph that is way too long (7 lines is a good max). A sentence at the end of a paragraph may deserve to be on its own line as a tension builder.

I guarantee there are more. What are the things you put on the chopping block in your final draft?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 Spoiler Free Review

Short version: I enjoyed it. Can't say I loved it, but it was fun and worth the price of admission. The special effects are amazing and worth seeing on a big screen. Volume 2 was the perfect subtitle because it felt like the second TPB of a comic.

It lost points with me because...

1. The core plot was a little too paint by numbers. Though it was a well told story with lots of Easter eggs, cool themes and character moments, you knew where it was going by the end of the first act.

Recognizing the familiar plot formula was kind of a bummer. Like I didn't want to see it, but there it was. An otherwise awesome roller coaster ride kept coming to a screeching halt when they had to check the next box off the textbook plot point list.

2. Much of the humor felt forced, mostly due to weird timing. This is the gripe I usually have about the Thor movies. So many laugh lines were so out of place and dropped at such inappropriate times they were more distracting than funny.

In the first film, the humor was a natural part of the action. James Gunn went for whimsical, and succeeded, but still delivered a real story you could immerse yourself in. It was surreal and alien, and still somehow grounded and believable.

In this one, a lot of the jokes feel more like gags, just not as natural. Though it does have the greatest Stan Lee cameo to date.

I am looking forward to Vol. 3, though. I'd happily watch the movie again because if nothing else, it really is a lot of fun.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How to keep up with my work

Just a quick update on where I am at with my projects and where you can follow me for updates.

New Goodreads Author Page:

New Facebook Author Page:

And of course, to buy my current novellas...

Remember, every time you post a review, an angel gets their wings.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America 3 / Iron Man 4 / Avengers 3 Review

Whether you are looking for big epic fights, lots of fanboy geek-out moments, exciting action, a tense thriller, Marvel's trademark humor, or a more serious examination of superheroes in a real world setting, Captain America: Civil War delivers on all counts.

That might sound like the movie was trying to be too many things at once, but the Russo brothers pull it off. Every element gels. I was entertained from beginning to end.

I can't gush to the extreme of Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy, though. I can't call it my new favorite Marvel movie. I loved it. I'll see it again. I'll own the Blu-ray. But it lacked... something that I couldn't put my finger on for a couple days.

I finally realized the problem was that unlike those best of the best Marvel installments, this one felt structured. It suffered a bit from having most of the story beats that audiences have come to expect from lesser films. You could feel Act 1 ending and Act 2 beginning and trace how it all comes together.

It's biggest sin was that it gave away what was supposed to be the huge plot twist at the end of the movie with Tony Stark's opening scene. That plot twist was not delivered very well either. It essentially pinned the villain's entire master plan to a major plot contrivance that was hard for me to get past. Like with Age of Ultron, the How It Should Have Ended writes itself.

But with so many awesome fights and great scenes that run the spectrum from funny to touching to gripping, it was hard to care about its shortcomings.

Black Panther walked off the page and came to life on the screen. The scenes with Vision and Wanda were both a treat for old school fans and an intriguing element that newer fans who only know about the movies might not have seen coming. Ant-Man's part in the big airport fight was one awesome cheer worthy moment after another.

All of the focus is naturally on the heroes fighting each other, but even the opening scenes surrounding the Avengers chasing down Crossbones grabbed the audience right out of the gate, and set the tone beautifully.

Woven through all that escapism, the drama behind why the rift in the team forms is compelling. Unlike the pitiful comic of the same name, this story is an incredible look at what it would really mean to be a super powered vigilante in a real world with real politics and real consequences. Everyone's motivations make sense and makes the audience think.

Yet it doesn't sacrifice any of the fantasy or fun that makes the superhero genre great. The plot is not just an excuse of make the characters duke it out just to see who would win. At no point do you stop liking any of the characters or forget why you are rooting for... well everyone.

Spider-Man was the stand out star of the big airport battle. He and Ant-Man were there to lighten the tone and they succeeded.

Peter Parker was in some ways a departure from past films, and even the comics to a degree. Tom Holland's portrayal focuses a bit more on the awkward kid angle than his predecessors. But that's not a bad thing. The spirit of the character was a spot on modern take of a shy nerd with a sense of humor and a big heart who suddenly gets awesome super powers.

Seriously, they could have sold advance tickets to Spider-Man's next solo movie in the lobby on the way out and it would have broken box office records.

Bottom line: It doesn't dethrone my top favorite Marvel movies, but it makes a fine addition to the top 5. Go see it. Especially if you are a producer for Warner Brothers. THIS is how you make a superhero movie that normal people outside of hardcore comics fanboys want to see.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Take On Star Wars Ep VII

As the hype for Star Wars grew, I couldn't help but think back to the final line of Fanboys. After our heroes' hilarious journey surrounding the release of Episode I, they finally arrive in the theater opening night and one of them dares to ask, "What if it sucks?"

Experience has taught me to always keep my expectations low with any big anticipated movie. Letting your inner geek get too excited only makes the letdown that much harder.

With Force Awakens, though, I just couldn't help myself. The property was free of that hack Lucas. It was being done by a company that understands action adventure, directed by a man who clearly loved the Star Wars universe as much as we did. Despite my best attempts, my hopes were high.

And I was not disappointed. I can't gush over it like I have been prone to do with some films of recent years, but unlike the haters on social media, I have no problem enjoying a fun movie even if it has a few warts.

The short version: 4 out of 5 stars.

Well played action sequences, music and scenery that made you feel part of a galaxy far away, engaging characters... and despite following the exact same plot outline as the original movie, the story was delivered with enough of a unique spin and cool twists that I can forgive them. For the most part it was solidly written and well acted. I didn't feel the need to dumb myself down to enjoy the ride. I am really looking forward to seeing how this new saga develops.

The Force was with JJ Abrams and crew. From the bottom of my inner child's heart, thank you.

Now for the long version, as seen through the lens of a writer who can't help but dwell on story structure and characterization. And as a lifelong fan.

Oh yeah... SPOILER WARNING, for what it's worth. Though I figure anyone who wants to see the movie has by now.

Lets get the problems out of the way first. I want to talk about the good stuff, but bear with me while I vent a little.

Apparently there is such a thing as too much nostalgia. My biggest gripe was that they had to follow the plot of A New Hope point for point. I get that Disney wanted to wipe the prequels from our collective conscience. I get the appeal of filming a love letter to the originals. But I was tugged out of the story a few too many times when they beat you over the head with deja vu.

Some of the callbacks were well done. Calling the Falcon garbage at first glance. Dropping the line "I have a bad feeling about this." C3PO interrupting Han and Leia just as they are having a moment. Han asking if the base had a trash compactor. Those were well timed tension breakers.

But come ON. It opens with a spy giving the film's MacGuffin to a cute little droid. The droid then wanders a desert full of scavengers in search of a reluctant hero with a destiny to bring him to the good guys by way of the criminal underworld, with the help of a man of questionable morality but a heart of gold who turns out to really just be in it for the girl. Said anti-hero tries to bail, but returns to save the day. The conflict builds to a battle with a huge superweapon that they have to destroy by flying through a trench before it wipes them all out.


I pray to the sci-fi entertainment gods that Disney got it out of their system with this film and run with a more original script in future installments.

Though not part of the carbon-copy plot syndrome, the biggest moment that I had trouble pushing myself past was when Finn and Rey were trying to escape Jakku, and the Millennium Falcon just happened to be right there.

Now, there was an underlying sense that Han knew exactly who Rey was, not the least of which was the fact that she knew everything about that antique ship like she'd grown up flying it.

So it's entirely possible that it will be revealed in the next movie that Han's whole claim about the Falcon being stolen was just a cover story, and that it was left there on purpose. I kind of hope that's the case because if not, it was just way too silly of a convenience. Or maybe it was Luke orchestrating events from afar. I'd buy that. Give me some attempt to justify it. The audience can only be expected to fall back on the Force as a plot device so much.

A few scenes later, another immersion breaking moment came when no one thought it might be a bad idea to bring the very distinctive BB-8 droid that the First Order was hellbent to capture into a literal den of thieves. Not very sound judgement coming from a career criminal. Granted, there was a throwaway line where Han figured they were being tracked anyway, but why increase your odds of the First Order finding you that much more? It was an awkward stretch of logic to buy.

Also during this part of the film, Finn suddenly changes his mind about wanting to not be one of the bad guys anymore and declares he's leaving. This was just one of the times that made me wonder if I liked Finn or not. He'd JUST given Rey a spiel about doing the right thing. But then much later in the story, he basically admits that he's only there because he has the hots for Rey. His motivations are too scattered at times, which I couldn't help but see as Hollywood Mentality mucking him up. I could just hear them in the writer's room. "No no no. He has to refuse the call of the hero's journey first!"

I am so damn torn on Kylo Ren.

First he freezes a blaster bolt in mid-air and casually waltzes around it. After several scenes establishing that Chewbacca's bowcaster packs the punch of a grenade launcher, Ren takes a shot to the chest and shrugs it off. He rips thoughts from people's minds with abandon. He's ruthless. He's savage. For 3/4 of the film, he's scary as hell.

Then he takes his mask off in front of Rey.

Instantly this insane mind crushingly powerful badass devolves into an emo kid. His whole monologue with Rey in the interrogation chamber came across way too weak. He had a lot of his grandfather in him, alright. Ugh.

Soon after, when he faced his father in the most pivotal moment of the film, I didn't know whether to hope for his redemption, root for him to complete his turn to the Dark Side, or push him off the damn bridge.

My opinion of him hinges on what they do with him in the rest of the trilogy. He BETTER NOT be turned back to the Light. If he does not develop into a full-on unabashed, unapologetic, unsympathetic evil villain, then he'll be remembered as nothing but a pussy.

And don't try to write him like Vader either. Kylo Ren needs to become the Joffrey Baratheon of the Star Wars universe.

If killing his father gives him permission to put on big boy pants, then even his whining and tantrums in this first movie has a chance to be remembered as solid characterization. So long as they don't ever try to sell him as stoic.

See, that was the biggest problem with the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. I just could not see that whiny bitchface being seen as a war hero, or turning into this paragon of fear that we met in the original trilogy. It was way too inconsistent.

Captain Phasma was kind of disappointing, though that was more a failure of marketing than of the movie itself. She was billed as one of the big villains, but ended up being kind of a joke. I really hope they redeem her in the next movie. I demand a vibroblade throwdown between her and Finn at some point.

Anyway, that's it. Too much fan service, and a couple scenes of iffy writing. And Kylo Ren, but with a big asterisk on him because I still liked him. There were a few other moments of plot contrivance that were so easy to ignore I have trouble recalling them. It was not a perfect film. But neither were any of the original films.

And just like the original films, there was SO much to love.

Like Rey! If I am ever blessed with an opportunity to write a novel in the Star Wars universe, I am going to have so much fun with her. I loved the way they unfolded the mystery surrounding her origins. Her vision, the way she knew the Falcon inside and out, the way her powers and training slowly came back to her.

She clearly has her own issues with how to channel her powers, too. She radiated frustration that bordered on anger almost every time she showed her Jedi side. Big warning bell, and great material for her training arc in the sequel.

The reigning theory is that she'll turn out to be Luke's daughter. That's actually pretty likely, but I don't just assume it. If you look only at what was said and shown on screen, you don't know the full story. She is easily the most intriguing character.

While a little torn on Finn, I lean toward liking him, too. There's a lot of unfair hate out there on the interwebs surrounding him that I just don't get. Here's a kid who was taken from his family and psychologically reprogrammed to be a drone. But when faced with an order to kill innocent civilians, he breaks his programming and defects. How is that not compelling?

Despite being just a grunt, we see him pick up and wield a lightsaber, which is a bit mind blowing if you think about it. Sure he loses to Kylo Ren, but the fact that he could beat that other stormtrooper in melee combat with a weapon so dangerous that only Jedi dare to wield it was enough to establish the kid's battlefield cred.

The revelation that he was assigned to sanitation at one point in his career was kind of unfortunate. While it was funny, and set up the trash compactor joke, it also made haters go "OMG he was a janitor LOLZ." Well that janitor went toe to toe with a trained Dark Jedi so there's clearly more to him than comic relief.

And who can complain about a movie where Han Solo had such a HUGE part? Even after seeing it countless times in commercials, the line "Chewie, we're home" gave me chills. Harrison Ford slipped into that character as easily as if he'd just played him last year, not three decades ago. His presence on the screen was what really made fans feel nostalgic. And he finally got to give the character the ending he always wanted. Can't get more poetic than that.

Chewie's scenes were gold. Leia had some very poignant moments. Even Luke's thirty seconds with no dialogue made for an epic ending.

What I loved most was that Abrams presented a story about a very large and diverse galaxy. Jedi were just one aspect of it. The core aspect, but only a part of a larger story. One huge failing of the prequels was how much the Jedi dominated the plot to the point of suffocating it. In role playing terms, every archetype had a part to play in this adventure. It was a relatable story that focused on  regular people fighting for their place in a very real universe where the Force was the stuff of myth and legend. A true space opera fantasy.

Don't let the haters get you down. Go see it (again)!