Archives for February 2012

Back To The Crusade

My current 40K novel, The Fist of Demetrius, is starting to shape up. I am about 25000 words in. An ominous cloud of intrigue looms over Macharius as he reaches the absolute zenith of his power at the height of the Crusade. The Dark Eldar are moving across the event horizon. Multiple conflicts loom, with the xenos, with ambitious generals and corrupt Imperial politicians. Macharius ,although he does not know it, is about to experience the pivotal event of his life, a confrontation with something that will turn him from the golden reflection of Alexander the Great into the dark, ruthless fanatic we know from the background texts.

Slowly, a bit at a time, a book is coming into being. It’s fun to watch and at the same time frustrating, because writing always happens slower than you want it to. I have all these exciting scenes in my mind. I want them written down. NOW! I want the story rolling along. I want to see how it all works out. And yet it is arriving in the only way stories do, one phrase at a time, over a period of minutes and hours and days and months.

I keep going back and rewriting earlier sections in the light of what has been revealed by later events, working in foreshadowing and even just bits of knowledge I did not have then. All sorts of strange connections emerge. One of Macharius’s adversaries, an enormously powerful Imperial bureacrat was once his tutor.That just came out in conversation so now I have to go back and figure out what that means.

I could just take out the bit of dialogue, of course, but it’s interesting, and it has the appeal of a puzzle, and I have to trust that the character said this for a reason, even if only my subconsciousness knows why at the moment. In part I know it’s a reference to Alexander who was taught by some of the brightest and best of his time, but how in the name of the Emperor did a famous philosopher become a corrupt Imperial administrator?  Still, it makes him a very distinctive character. It makes him different and more real. It gives the villain and the hero a personal connection which is always useful.

So far it’s been a book where my subconsciousness has been running ahead of my plotting, or rather interacting with it. A Rogue Trader walked on stage in one of the earlier chapters and I wondered why the hell I was putting so much effort into describing a character who did not even appear in my outline. I stuck with it though and today I realised that the Rogue Trader might not have been there in the plot synopsis, but a powerful ship was, one that was needed to carry Macharius on a secret mission and, hey, a Rogue Trader could provide that. Even better, the mission took Macharius to a lost world on the fringes of the Crusade and who better to provide guidance than one of these Imperially sanctioned merchant adventurers?

Do these sort of connections always work out? Of course not.

Sometimes they are simply dead ends and mean nothing. Sometimes they just end up lying there on the page, an extra bit of detail that does not contribute anything to the ongoing storyline but makes a character or a place or a situation more real. Orwell once said that it was the unnecessary detail that characterised the work, specifically the descriptions, of Dickens. As with so much Mr Blair wrote, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing at once. I usually try and remove anything that does not advance the story, inform the reader or develop character. It’s the thing writers are always told to do, and in general it is good advise but there are times when sometimes the strangeness of the unneeded detail provides an echo of the very real strangeness of life and that seems to me to be a good time to leave it in. And sometimes that seemingly unnecessary detail actually does provide some insight into the character or the world and at that point it ceases to be unnecessary and becomes just a detail.

And now I am going back to worrying about how Macharius’s tutor became his enemy. I might have worked this out by the time Black Library Live rolls around on Saturday. Maybe I will see you there.

Also I would just like to remind you that Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.


If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Create Your Own Ebook Cover, Step By Step, With Pictures

Fair warning, you are about to get advice on creating your cover from a man with all the artistic talent of a slug. Indeed, so small are my gifts in this area that several slugs have written in to complain that my statement is demeaning to their creative abilities. It also has to be said you’re going to be taking PowerPoint advice from a man who is not particularly adept with PowerPoint, especially its Windows variant.

So why am I doing this exactly? Because I can, of course, and because I want to make a point; that even a man with my stunning lack of skill can create an acceptable ebook cover in a few minutes with a minimum of fuss. And if I can, then you can too. I am going to use the cover I create here for the ebook version of my sword and sorcery short story Henchmen so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is too.

Why PowerPoint — why not Photoshop or the GIMP or any one of a dozen much more powerful programs designed to manipulate images? Because the last time I seriously used Photoshop was over 15 years ago and I can’t be bothered learning how to use it again. Also it costs hundreds of quid. At some point I do intend to learn to use the GIMP but I have not done so yet. So the chances of me being able to write a sensible post showing you how to use such an image editor are precisely nil. On the other hand, I do know how to make PowerPoint do this thing and PowerPoint is something that most of us are able to get our hands on relatively cheaply. It is a basic part of Microsoft’s Office Suite. That being the case, much more powerful programs are overkill.

If you already know how to use  an image editor, go do so with my blessing. If you know how to use Photoshop or The Gimp you probably don’t need me to tell you how to create your own cover. This post is for the benefit of those who have absolutely no familiarity with the process.

Before we proceed, we’ll need to talk about the image you are going to use. Obviously, this should be relevant to your book, and hopefully striking and attractive to the reader’s eye. The rights to images are a bit of a legal minefield. If you use your own images and people appear in them, you are supposed to have the permission of those people to use the image. The same is true of certain buildings and works of art. There are images out there in the public domain and there are also image libraries where you can search through and buy pictures which all the legal paperwork has already been done for. Or if it hasn’t the problem is the library’s and not yours! (Again, full disclosure; one of the many talents and skills I lack is being a lawyer. This is one man’s understanding of a complex subject in which he is not in the slightest an expert.) The image libraries I use are Dreamstime and iStockphoto. A quick Google search will reveal more.

You can find acceptable cover images in the paid libraries for only a few dollars. You may even recognise them from some of the books you own from big publishing houses. I certainly did, which rather surprised me. The image I use here was 13 credits on Dreamstime. (Most libraries use a system where you purchase credits in much the same way as systems like Xbox Live do. The credit is a sort of borderless currency usable within the Image Library.) 13 credits costs about $17/£10.50. In any case, go get an image that reflects your book and we’ll be ready to make a start.

I will be using the OSX version of PowerPoint because that’s what I have screen capture utilities for. There are differences in the Windows version of PowerPoint. I will mention these in the text and hopefully add some more pictures when I get screen capture software for Windows. I use PowerPoint 2010 for Windows, the only version I have any (very limited) experience of. I don’t claim that any of the techniques I use here are optimal and I would be only too happy to hear of a better method of doing things.

I will be following standard menu conventions shamelessly lifted from most of the technical books I have read. I will place the names of the main menu first and separate them with a greater than sign that tells you to go to a sub-menu and all of this will be in italics. So Insert > Photo > Picture From File means click on the insert menu, go down to Photo and click on the Picture from File sub-menu.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started.

Open PowerPoint. Pick a theme that suits what you want to do. In this case I am going to pick a doomy white on black theme that will go with my sword and sorcery story.

Now you need to change Page Setup. You can use any unit of measurement you like and, within the restrictions I am about to mention, any size. The main thing is that your proportions should be 6 to 8 (or 3 to 4 if you like). By this I mean your page should be 6 units wide by 8 units high. You will eventually be exporting a 600 by 800 pixel cover and this will save you having to clip it to shape in an image manipulation program. Let’s make this slide 6 inches by 8 inches to give ourselves some room to work with. (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Design Tab of the Ribbon. There is a page setup button there.)

Page Setup PP

Now insert your cover image using Insert> Photo> Picture From File.  (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Insert Tab of the Ribbon. There is a Picture button.) As I said, I am going to use a stock fantasy image I downloaded from Dreamstime. I ran it through a couple of filters in FX Photo Studio to make it different from anybody else’s use of the image. One of the problems with using stock images is that anyone can use them and unless you make some changes your cover may end up looking exactly like somebody else’s. Since the story is a dark comedy about a pair of adventurers who are the henchmen of an evil wizard and in it they encounters some orcish creatures, this image does well enough. It immediately tells the viewer something about genre and content.

Inserted Picture PP

I have made the image bleed over the side of the slide a little which is OK. This leaves a black bar at the top and bottom of the slide which is fine for my purposes. You might want to make the image fit the whole slide. You can alter the size of the picture with the little handles on the side.

Now it’s time to add my name. Let’s insert a text box using (you guessed it!) Insert >Text Box. It is a good idea to stick with the same font for all your covers in order to create a consistent image with readers. In my case, all of my previous e-books have used Caslon Antique so that’s what we will be using here. (Windows version: the controls for this are on the Insert Tab of the Ribbon. There is a Text Box button.)

Move the text box around and experiment with the font size until you get something you like. Make it as big as you can. Remember you need it to be legible as a small thumbnail. The little thumbnails on the left side of the screen will give you a good idea of how successful you are being. It’s a good idea to centre the text unless you are going for a special effect of some sort. I mostly just stretch the text box right across the screen and then use the biggest font size that will fit onto one line. Or if you prefer to have your name on two lines let it bleed over or use two or more separate text boxes for each word in your name.

Orc With Name Added pp

The white text in the hook of the g looks a bit washed out against the pallid background of the image so let’s surround it with a black glow. Select all the text in the text box and then hit the glow button. (Windows version: You need to select the text box you are working. Click on the Drawing Tools Tab when it appears then click on the Text Effects dropdown when it appears. Choose Glow then go to glow options. Click on the color dropdown. Select Black. There is also a Shadow button just beneath the Fonts dropdown which simplifies things a lot at the cost of a loss of fine control.)

Glow Button PP

A sub-menu will come up. Go to Glow and select Glow Options. When you first see this there will be a bar that says No Glow.

No Glow PP

Click on this and you will see a selection of colours under a heading Theme Colours. Choose black. You will then see something like this. Hit OK to apply this to the text.

Black Glow 2

This gives a nice semi-3D effect that makes it seem to float above the image. If you need to use this effect, you can play with the settings until you get something you like.

Cover Name with Glow PP

 

OK– let’s add the title of the book. Add another text box. Play with the font size until you are happy and then give it a bit of a glow if needed. It’s basically just a repeat of the last step.

Cover With Title PP

 

It looks a little bare so I am going to add a quote at the top and a tag-line at the bottom that tells the reader that this is a story of Goran and Malik. They will be able to see that this is one of a putative series of stories.

Basic Blurbs Cover pp

OK– that’s all the elements in place. All that’s needed now is to play around with the basic sizes and proportions and positions until you get something you are happy with.

Anyway, that’s us done. It’s time to export the cover. Go to File>Save As Pictures and click on Options. Set width to 600 and height to 800. (Windows Version: Go to the File Tab and choose Save and Send. Select Change File Type. Choose JPEG File Interchange Format. Push Save. Choose Save Current Slide. As far as I can tell Powerpoint 2010 does not give you a choice of sizes when you export so you will need to open the JPG in an image editor and adjust the file size. You can do this very easily in Paint, the free image editing and drawing program that comes with Windows 7.)

Set Height and Width

Give your cover a title for when it’s saved. Hit OK. That’s it. We’re done here. And there you have it; a colour e-book cover for under $20 and a small investment in time. Once you’ve had a bit of practise the whole process should not take more than 10 minutes.

Henchmen COver Final

I don’t recommend you copy my layout here. (For one thing, I am sure you can do much better!) Instead take a glance at books in your own genre and see what they look like. Note how they use font sizes and various layouts. Find one that you like and try and duplicate the effects. (I am not saying copy the cover, just the style in which it is done!) Play around with things until you are happy. For example, with The Inquiry Agent (see picture on the right sidebar) we used two text boxes for the title with the words The Inquiry in a smaller font than the word Agent.

As a last word, one of the great advantages of this system is that you now have a template you can use for any future releases in this series. For example, when I release future Goran and Malik stories all I need do is load a new cover image, change the text in the title textbox and I am done. This may seem like my usual laziness to some but I like to think of it as efficiency.

By the way, Henchmen is available for the Kindle right now at Amazon.com,  Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords if you should feel the urge to buy it.


If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

High Elves, Dark Elves, All Elves

Central to the struggle in the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy is the conflict between High Elves and Dark Elves. We all know what that means, don’t we? High Elves are glittering and noble, proud and good. Dark Elves are decadent and wicked, drugged out and crazy, given to torture and malice. They are as different as two peoples can be, aren’t they?

Actually, I don’t think so. I think they are exactly the same people. They are just the products of two very different societies. I believe that in every High Elf is a potential Dark Elf, and in every Dark Elf there is the seed of a High Elf.

Consider this. They were all one people once, before the coming of Chaos, before Aenarion and the Godslayer, before Morathi and Malekith. There once were only Elves. There were no High Elves and no Dark Elves. They had their regional cultures for sure, and they followed different gods at times, but all of them recognised Aenarion as their King and the Everqueen as their Queen. The Elves split at the time of Aenarion when he drew the Black Sword from the Altar of Khaine. He had already forged a martial culture, turned the Elves into a warrior nation. The furthest extreme of the militarised culture he created is one of the roots of Dark Elf nation of Naggaroth. It has since been shaped and honed and refined by the personalities of two of the most powerful and ruthless beings ever to live in the Warhammer world: Malekith and his mother Morathi. From Malekith comes martial discipline, from Morathi, decadence, a love of dark sorcery and the worship of ancient and sinister gods.

In the meantime, Ulthuan went a different road. When Malekith failed to pass through the Sacred Flame of Asuryan and the Princes elected a new Phoenix King, they dug the foundations of a more open, multi-polar society. The wars between Naggaroth and Ulthuan that followed caused both nations to define themselves in opposition to each other. The High Elves made themselves into the opposite of their enemies because they wanted to claim the moral high ground.

Elves are not human. They look a little like human beings. They are more beautiful and much longer lived but they are not entirely like us. They instinctively understand magic. They feel things more keenly. They exist in a heightened exalted state. Most of the time it is like they are slightly drunk or on drugs. They feel things very intensely and often with a strangeness of emphasis to the human eye. This is true of both Asur and Druchi. They have far more in common with each other than they have differences but one of the things about them is that they take things to extremes. Their emotions drive them to it. Once the Elves set their feet on a path, they follow it all the way. The High Elves are going to drive themselves to be noble and true. The Dark Elves are going to excel in decadence and savagery. In some ways though, they are playing a role. All of this is the outcome of choices they have made.

Their societies are also shaped by their life expectancy. An elf lives much longer than anyone in our world will, and our life expectancies are far longer than those of a human who lives in the Warhammer World. In the Old World human lives must be much shorter than even those in our own Middle Ages. Elves have to deal with the long term consequences of their acts. They plan on living to have to do so.

Dark Elf society is particularly shaped by two elves who have lived longer than almost anybody else in the Warhammer world: Morathi and Malekith. They have been there from the beginning. From them, as far as the Dark Elves are concerned, flow all power, all authority, all riches. Their personalities have shaped the nation. They are mother and father to it in a very real sense, gigantic parental figures who have always been there and whom it is always unthinkable to imagine ever not being there. Big Brother (and Big Sister) is very definitely watching, all the time, everywhere. There are vast networks of spies and informers and in some ways every Druchii is co-opted into the system. They are rewarded for betraying your kin and companions.

And this is the true source of the very real differences between the two Elvish nations. The High Elves live in a land where no one has ultimate power. Rulership rests on the consent of the ruled. The Dark Elves live in a tyranny, their lives shaped by two powerful semi-divine immortals. I strongly suspect that a High Elf born in Ulthuan and raised in Naggaroth would be a Dark Elf, and a Druchii headed in the reverse direction would be an Asur. In Blood of Aenarion one of the characters is a Dark Elf sent to Ulthuan as an adult. He is changed by the experience, fatally as it turns out. He provides what I hope is an interesting commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems.

Blood of Aenarion is on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award this year. You can vote here.


If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

The Utility of Free: Some Thoughts on Free EBooks

I was planning on posting my guide to creating ebook covers in PowerPoint today but these posts are quite labour intensive and yesterday was Valentine’s Day and I decided I would rather go out for a nice dinner with my lovely wife than spend the evening making annotated screenshots. Go figure, huh!  So it’s next week for the PowerPoint guide unless my monkey brain gets distracted by something else…

Over at Terribleminds Chuck Wendig has an excellent and thoughtful post about the costs and uses of going free in ebook publication. Go read it, I will still be here when you get back. A warning for the easily shocked, Chuck is somewhat more profane than I am, just so you know. He has put into words some of my own reservations about making your books free for promotional purposes. He also provides some useful facts and figures about the results you can expect to achieve (or rather which he got), which I will endeavour to do later as well. Reading Chuck’s post reminded me that I had promised to report back on my own free experiment and never did. I am going to rectify that today.

I have actually done two experiments with free, using two different methods. In the first I made my short story the Guardian of the Dawn free for a number of months. To be perfectly frank, I had no idea what I was doing when I did this. I just wanted to test the price-matching mechanism for making books free via Smashwords which was, in those pre-Kindle Select days, the only way of doing this. I thought I might get my name out there, acquire some recognition and maybe prepare the ground for the upcoming Kormak novels I was going to write. On reflection this was kind of dumb but it did give me some idea of how to do things.

For those of you who are wondering what I am rambling on about, price-matching your books to free simply means you set the price at zero on Smashwords and its affiliates and then wait until Amazon matches the price on its site and drops the price to free. It’s a hit or miss method which grants very little control compared to Select but has the advantage of letting you set your book to free almost indefinitely. It’s the difference between surgical strikes and carpet bombing.

Amazon’s Kindle Select program allows you to make your book free for five days of your choice over a ninety day period. It has some other advantages including making you eligible for a share of the money from the funds Amazon puts aside to recompense people whose ebooks are borrowed by members of its Kindle Select Library. For many people it’s the ability to make your books free that is the important thing.

Right about now, unless you have some experience with the wacky world of selling your own ebooks (or read Chuck’s post) you’re probably wondering what is so gosh-darned wonderful about the ability to give your books away to strangers for nothing. After all the royalty on something priced at zero is zip no matter how many books are given away.

The answer is complicated because no one but Amazon really knows what actually happens with its algorithms so all I can give you are my best guesses combined with the best guesses of people who know more about these things than I do. The important bit is that when you make a book free the downloads appears to count, at least in part, towards your sales total for putting you in Amazon’s charts when you come off free. I know, this hardly seems logical, but take the matter up with the folks at Amazon, they designed the system, not me. Based on my own experience, this does appear to be what happens.

Doing this can put you high enough in the charts when you come off free to generate extra sales. Getting into the charts gets you extra visibility. The hope is that once you get there, your chart position will garner you enough sales to keep you there. People will see your name on the bestseller lists and be tempted to buy your books. I’ve had some experience of Amazon’s bestseller lists and this also appears to work. I discussed what happened when I dropped the price of Death’s Angels and it jumped into the UK charts here.

The other advantage you get is embedding yourself in Amazon’s recommendation engines. This means that your book will show up in the also bought lists because of people downloading it and other books. How this works is that Amazon makes a little note of what people buy every time they buy something. When you look at one of the books in the store along the bottom of the screen you’ll see a list of other books that people who bought this one also bought. This gives your book some extra exposure if it appears here. A person may decide to buy your book rather than (or as well as) the one they initially looked at. (The process is a whole lot more complex than this but I am giving you the gist!)

There are people who will, quite correctly, tell you that all this means is that your free book will show up in those lists alongside a random selection of books that just happened to be downloaded by people looking for free books at the same time your’s was free. This is not exactly the way you would want this to work.

Normally also boughts have a higher chance of getting you a sale because people tend to buy books in genres or styles or types that they like. For example, fantasy fans will buy a lot of books in their genre so someone who buys Brandon Sanderson may well buy Robert Jordan or vice versa. This is something that Amazon takes note off and so there will be a higher chance of Mr Sanderson’s books showing up in the also bought lists associated with Mr Jordan and vice versa. Presumably people who see them there will consider buying those books if they have not done so already because they are of a type they know they like.

When your book is acquired as part of a random grab-bag this does not happen. There may be no connection between your books in terms of genre and subject with the other books on the also bought list so you don’t get the advantage of selling to someone who already may like books of the same type as yours. Your also boughts might include things completely outside your genre and subject. That said, you will show up in also bought lists and, for an unknown, this sort of scattershot recommendation is better than no recommendation at all. Anything that might lead to an extra sale should be welcomed, particularly when it involves no work on your part.

I made my book The Inquiry Agent free just before Christmas. My basic reasoning was that it was a historical detective novel, not a field in which I have any name recognition and I wasn’t risking much by making it free. I wanted to test the effects of the new Select program and I wanted to do it in an area where my risks were few. In the five day period running up to Xmas I got 1293 free downloads in the US and 4332 downloads in the UK. When I came off free on the 26th I got between 50 and 70 sales per day for the rest of December. This put me onto several genre bestseller lists and the hot new releases list. Moving into January sales began to deteriorate dropping to tens and then single digits until at 30 days out I was selling 2-3 a day which is where sales remain. As you would expect from the breakdown of the free downloads, the majority of these sales were in the UK.

In total between coming off free and today I made just over 600 sales, earning approximately  $1600/£1000. (I can’t be bothered to total up the exact numbers with correct exchange rates so these are ballpark figures.) I have to say that the initial post-free period was thrilling and then a little depressing as I watched the sales dry up. I did get a bunch of great reviews and some lovely emails from people who liked the book. Given the fact that this was a novel that I had a blast writing but which I never expected to see the light of print, all this was a huge bonus. The fact that the book continues to sell gently is gravy.

So what are my impressions of the whole process of going free? It obviously works at least in the short term. It can generate a burst of extra sales and recommendations although these seem to die off in the long run. It’s hard for me to come to any real conclusions because I don’t really have anything to compare the results too at the moment. This is one book, not in my genre, and I have no idea how it would have sold without going free. Worse is my suspicion!

And the downsides? Most of these are covered by Mr Wendig in his post and I don’t want to rehash them here. Chuck raises a valid point when he says we may be training readers to the idea that if they wait long enough to get books they want for free although the counter-argument is that not all readers do this otherwise libraries would have killed the print industry long ago.

As you may have gathered from my previous posts I am actually a big fan of loss-leaders for series and it is easily possible to see making the first book in the series free as the ultimate loss-leader. After all by the time, you have reduced your book to 99 cents you are only losing 35 cents per book if you give it away and if you look at this as part of your advertising and marketing budget you may very well get acceptable results for it.

That said, I am doing very well thank you very much with my Terrarch books right now and I am loath to tinker with what has been a winning formula so we’ll have to wait until I write a new series before I try any more experiments with making books free.  Basically at the moment, the also boughts of my Terrarch books have the other Terrarch books lined up nicely with each other along the bottom of the screen and I don’t want to disturb the symmetry. Also Amazon are obviously recommending the books to people who want to buy them and I don’t want to risk disrupting this by introducing a random grab-bag of also boughts into the recommendations.

Anyway, to quit waffling; would I recommend going free? My conclusions are probably self-evident from this post. Particularly if you are an unknown, I can see no harm in giving it a try. You may well luck out, particularly if you already have a series on the stocks. I am conservative enough not to want to attempt the use of free while I am doing well enough from my own series. I would certainly consider it launching a new series in a field where I don’t already have an audience. I may very well try it again with the Inquiry Agent when I have a few more books about Brodie written.

Go Read This…

…if you have any interest in self-publishing your own ebook. Dean Wesley Smith has put up an excellent post on the costs of indie publishing. I can confirm that everything Dean says here is 100% accurate. At some point in the next few weeks I’ll stick up a post about the actual mechanics of doing your own covers with PowerPoint. I am a man with the artistic talent of a slug (and that is probably insulting slugs) and I can do this. If I can, anyone can.

Create Your Own Kindle EBook, Step by Step, With Pictures

Important Note: As of November 2012 Amazon appears to be rejecting some ebooks created using Calibre. More on this subject can be found here.

Today I am starting a series on how to publish your own ebook. I have had a fair amount of interest in my posts on this subject  over the past few months and I wanted to give some substance to my claim that self-publishing an ebook is not much harder than pushing Save on your word-processor.

Important Note 2 : If you own a Mac and a copy of Scrivener you may want to consider reading this post instead. It talks about an even easier way to format not only ebooks but print books.

Honestly, this is really true, with the proviso that you are producing a novel or a short story and that you do things correctly right from the start. I won’t talk about picture books or books with footnotes, citations and references because I have no experience of such things. I have, however, as of this date, published six of my own novels and a few of my own short stories and I have found the process absurdly simple.

I recommend reading Mark Coker’s excellent Smashwords Style Guide (available free here) if you want to have a full overview of the technical whys and wherefors of what’s going on but such an understanding is not really essential if you follow the procedures I outline here. This guide is as stripped down as I can make it, with pictures showing you which buttons to push! If you just follow the steps outlined you should end up with a perfectly serviceable ebook.

Today I am going to concentrate on the Kindle. I am not going to talk about any of the other options such as iBooks or B&N’s Pubbit because I don’t have accounts with them. Smashwords can get you on to all of these publishers and more such as Kobo, should you desire such things. I’ll talk about Smashwords in a future article. For the moment, let’s just concentrate on getting your work up on Amazon’s Kindle which is right now far and away the biggest game in town.

You’re eventually going to need an account with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Just follow the link and then follow the instructions. You don’t need to worry about this too much now though. This time around I am just going to walk you through the process of creating the ebook file you will upload to Amazon.

You are also going to need a few more things, most of which are free or which as a writer contemplating publishing a novel or short story you really should already have. You will need a copy of Calibre ( a free open source ebook library and ebook creation program), a word-processor and a novel or short story. Calibre works on Windows, OSX and Linux so the methods I am about to outline will work for most anybody with access to a computer.

Got them? Good. Let’s get started.

Most ebooks use a simplified form of HTML, the same markup language used to make web-pages. They don’t really use or need complex formatting any more than a simple web page does. When writing a book you just need to keep your text as clean as possible, which means using a minimum of styles.

For a novel, all you really need is a Header style and the Normal style. If your book is only divided by chapters, you should use the Header One style for your Chapter headers. If your book is broken up in a more complex fashion such as into parts, chapters and possibly even sub-chapters, you should use your headers hierarchically. Parts should be Header One, Chapters should be Header Two, sub-chapters Header Three. The reasons for this will become obvious later. I will assume for a novel you will only use chapters. For a short story, the only header you might have will be the title itself.

You can use italics and bold in your text as much as you like but you should restrain yourself from using anything else. Don’t mark out your paragraphs with tabs and don’t use multiple paragraph marks for anything. Don’t create paragraph indents with multiple spaces, use a Paragraph Style with a first line indent instead. You can set this in your word-processor using the Styles Menu. Use Reveal Formatting to see exactly how things look.

Another Markup For Blog

As you are writing, follow these simple rules. Separate out your scenes with a single line between paragraphs. Mark your chapter headings with the header style. If you have already written your book, I would recommend simply selecting all the text and removing any styles from the text that are in place (unless your book is already in this format, of course). Switch on Reveal Formatting and go through your text removing any paragraph indents created with tabs or spaces, if there are any. Once that is done, give all the selected text the normal style. Now go through your text using Find. Search out your chapter headings and make sure they are all in your chosen Header style. In this example you can see that I have centred and bolded the Header Style.

Don’t forget to put your copyright information at the start of your manuscript. A simple declaration of title, author’s name and the release date is enough here.

Done that? Good. Go to the Save As menu and save the text as HTML. You’re ready to move on to the next stage. (One small tip here, I usually load my Word files into Libre Office or OpenOffice before I save them as HTML. Libre/OpenOffice produces much cleaner HTML code than Word. You can save directly from Word if you like though. Of course, if your chosen word processor is OpenOffice you don’t have to think too hard about this.)

You need to start Calibre and add your HTML text to your collection. You do this by hitting the Add Books Button. (From here on out all the pictures will be from the OSX version of Calibre, but it looks pretty much exactly the same in Windows. I have used the Windows version for creating all my ebooks. It’s just easier to take annotated screenshots on the Mac.)

Calibre 1

Add your books HTML file to Calibre. After you’ve done that, you should see something like this. The HTML file for your book will be added to the central library list.

Calibre 2

If you look in the bottom right hand corner, you will see that the format is ZIP. Don’t worry about this. You will be changing it soon. Hit the Convert books button. (It’s the third one from the left, just in case your eyesight is as bad as mine!) You’ll see something that looks like this.

Calibre 3

On the top left of your screen you will see a drop down menu that says Input format ZIP. This is correct. Leave it like that. On the top right it should say Output format MOBI. If it does not set the output format to MOBI on the drop down menu. This is the format Amazon uses for it’s ebooks currently. Beneath the output format you’ll see a bunch of boxes for metadata such as Title, Author(s), Publisher etc. Set these to whatever is appropriate here. When you upload the book to Amazon it won’t have a huge effect since you will set this data on Amazon’s site for reference there. The metadata you put in here will still be in the file though and will remain if someone converts your book to a different format if you choose to sell it without DRM (which I think you should, but that’s an article for another day :)).

Next you will need to add your cover. There are two points I need to make here. I have deliberately skipped the process of cover creation because that is really a separate post in itself. (Also I must confess that my highly talented wife does this for me.) You can create your own covers in a number of ways using Photoshop, the Gimp, many different image editing programs, even Powerpoint. You can also pay a professional to do your cover for you. The important thing is that you get an image you like and that it is 600 by 800 pixels. Obviously it should have your author name and book title and an image that tells your reader something about the contents of your book on it.)

The second point I need to mention is that the box you will need to push to add this image is actually hidden in the picture above and , if you have a screen setup like mine, you will need to scroll down to reveal it. If you are anything like me and I don’t mention this, you may end up spending hours looking for the box and cursing me because it’s not there. This is what it should look like when you scroll down the screen a bit.

Calibre 4

Click on the Change Cover Image Box and load your cover file. Once you’ve done that you should see something like this (with your own image, of course.) The image appearing will tell you that Calibre has acquired your cover.

Calibre 5

Ok-that’s cover and metadata set, let’s move on. Click on the Look And Feel Tab and set the button to remove spacing between paragraphs. If you don’t do this your paragraphs will end up indented as as well as having an line between them which is overkill. Usually for fiction, the convention is to have indented paragraphs. For non-fiction, it’s non-indented paragraphs with a line between them. You should choose one or the other.

Calibre 6

You can ignore the heuristic processing tab and move straight on to Page Setup. Set input profile to Default Input Profile. Set output profile to Kindle.

Calibre 7

Now we come to structure detection. This is where the correct use of headers is important. Assuming you have used the proper levels of heading Calibre will detect the structure automatically and you can leave these settings as is. You can ignore the stuff in the box about Xpath expressions. This is just Calibre telling itself what to look for. You don’t need to do anything with them.

Calibre 8

The same applies to the Table of Contents tab.

Calibre 9

If for any reason you need to adjust these things manually, you can click on the Magic Wand button and a sub-panel will appear.

Calibre 10

If you need to make manual adjustments to the setup of your menu you can use the drop down to make sure that the HTML tags in your documents produce the correct levels of heading in your table of contents i.e Header One will produce a top level Table of Content link, Header Two will produce the next level and so on. If you’ve done your initial document setup properly, you should never need to do this. Calibre will do it automatically. I am just mentioning it here for the sake of completeness.

Calibre 11

That’s it! You can ignore the rest of the Tabs and hit the OK button here!

Calibre 12

Once you hit the OK button, you’ll need to wait a short time while Calibre processes your ebook. You’ll see a little text box in the bottom right hand corner that says Jobs:1. A wheel icon will turn until the job is complete once it is done you should see this.

Calibre 13

And that’s it. You’ve created your Kindle ebook. If you click on where it says MOBI next to Formats: you will get a preview of your ebook in Mobi Format that looks something like this.

Calibre 14

Better yet if you click Path: Click to Open, you will get access to the actual MOBI file of your ebook. You can preview this on Kindle Previewer or transfer it to your Kindle or the Kindle app on your smartphone or computer to see what it looks like. This is the actual file you will upload to Amazon. We’ll deal with that next time.

Calibre 15

Calibre 16

I realise all of these steps seem a little complex, the first time you do them but trust me, they soon become second nature. After a few attempts, you will be able to run through this whole procedure in a couple of minutes. I do. This method also has the great advantage of letting you create EPUB files simply by changing the output format during the initial step with Calibre.

Important Note: As of November 2012 Amazon appears to be rejecting some ebooks created using Calibre. More on this subject can be found here.


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