2017-05-21

Why Write

My current project stands at 5,869 words. I am making slow but steady progress. I leave for Launch Pad in two weeks. I should make significant progress during my time there. I have now reached the point in my HTML/CSS/JavaScript studies where I need to start working on a website. As with any language, just reading about it does not mean you know how to do it. One must actually use the language to truly understand how it functions. I plan on doing that starting today.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to see a movie named The Fight For Space. It was produced like a documentary one might see on PBS. I am old enough to remember sitting in front of the television when we first set foot on the surface of the moon. I was also there when the last foot left. Fifty years ago, we had the technology to put people on the moon. Most of that technology is now lost. NASA is developing the SLS, a massive rocket that will become their latest heavy lift vehicle. It's sad to think that all the billions of dollars spent on developing the SLS is wasted because--when it's finally ready for service--it will be about as capable of the Saturn V. Think about that for a moment. We had a heavy lift rocket that we used to send people to the moon 50 years ago. How advanced would that vehicle be if we had continued to improve it instead of setting it aside? It's sad. The Fight For Space is an eye-opening movie and if you ever get a chance to view it--do so.

I've always believed that a person should choose a career they enjoy. I got the itch to write as far back as junior high school. But I also developed an intense liking to science fiction and that led to my interest in technology. My dad was a ham radio operator and I borrowed quite a number of his books on electronics. I read every book in our school library on computer science as well as the physical sciences. In addition to electronics, I became interested in nuclear power. Back then, nuclear power plants would send you a packet of information if you wrote to them. I managed to get several and soon I was learning all about nuclear power. My dad was also a computer programmer and I picked up on that as well. When it came time for me to join the workforce, I had plenty of choices.

I began my working life as a computer operator. But, bad choices when I was young led me to join the Navy. That led me into the nuclear power industry. Looking back at the things that happened to change the course of my life, I am amazed because a single wrong choice, a change in timing, a missed chance encounter, could have put me far away from where I am now.

I work at a nuclear power plant. I'm a recognized subject matter expert on several complex systems because of my electronics and computer background. I write computer programs for a living and I write. I am doing everything I love to do. But just enjoying writing is not enough for some to actually write and publish a book. Going all the way is not easy--so why do I write?

I don't write and publish my writing for the money. Having the monthly royalty income is a blessing, but it is not my primary reason for writing. I don't write for the fame. Unless you're a superstar in the writing field, there is no fame in writing and I don't think I would enjoy it anyway. I write because I enjoy knowing that the worlds and stories I create are being enjoyed by others. I write because I have the itch to do so. I edit and have others look at my work and I learned how to properly format a book because I care about my end product. I write because I love to immerse myself in other worlds.

Writing takes time. So does learning a new programming language--something else I very much enjoy doing. I've been writing an average of one book a year since 2009. I still love to write. But, I also love computer programming. The urge to learn a new programming language has gone up a notch with the possibility that I might find myself unemployed. My priorities are shifting and writing is beginning to slide down the scale and is slowly being replaced by programming. Hopefully, as time goes on, I can find a happy medium where I can continue to do both with plenty of time left over to spend with my wife.

Life is about balance. It's a constantly changing balancing act where a person must live in the present while planning for the future using the experience gained from the past. Finding that right balance is the key to living a happy life. I'm happy now. I plan to be happy in the forseeable future.

2017-05-14

Formatting for Print

I actually managed to get some writing done last week. My newest novel now has a whopping 5,127 words spread across 2.5 chapters. The first chapter was peer reviewed at the writers group meeting yesterday. One of the advantages of using Scrivener to write a novel is the ability to quickly and easily take notes when people are talking about your writing. Simple corrections can be made in the text via any word processing program, but Scrivener has a spot where you can jot down notes for each document. For me, a document is a chapter. When I get complex feedback, I can just write a few notes and then later, when I have more time to edit, read those notes and incorporate them into the manuscript. Scrivener does require time to learn but once you've become familiar with how it works, you'll never to back to writing in a standard word processor again.

Last week, I mentioned that I would be talking about how I format a book for CreateSpace which is where I get my printed copies from. Even though I use Scrivener to write my novel, I use Microsoft Word for my final editing and formatting. I subscribe to Office 365 and Word has the ability to output a document to PDF which is required by CreateSpace.

If you've never formatted a book before, you should spend some time researching how to properly format a novel. The internet is full of examples and I highly suggest doing your research. An improperly formatted book will instantly label you as an amateur and many readers will move on to other authors. Pay attention to the type of books the article is talking about. Children's books are not formatted the same as a science fiction novel and those are very different than a book on photography. Go to the bookstore and pick up a pile of books similar to what you're looking to publish. Look at how the interior is formatted and take notes.

You're looking for the following:

  • How are the page numbers formatted? Where are they located on odd and even pages?
  • Look at the font that's used and how many different types and sizes of fonts appear.
  • Where do chapter headings appear? 
    • Are they always on an odd or even page?
    • What font style is used?
    • Where on the page is the chapter heading and how is it separated from the start of the chapter?
  • If footnotes are used, how are they separated from the main text?
  • What line-spacing is used?
  • Is the text justified? Is the first line always indented?
  • What's on the title page? What's on the next few pages?
  • How wide are the margins?
All of these and more are things you must keep in mind when formatting a book for print. Ebooks are relatively simple by comparison! For my novels, I have a set of rules I follow for interior formatting. They are:
  • Text is in Georgia 11, line spacing of at least 15 points (pts), justified with window and orphan turned on.
  • Chapter headings and titles are in Calibri.
  • Chapter 1 begins on page 1.
  • Chapters always begin on an odd page which puts it on the right-side of an open book.
  • First paragraph after a chapter or section break is flush left. All other paragraphs use a 0.3" indent.
  • Page numbers are at the top and formatted so the page numbers are at the outside edge of the printed book.
  • Inside margin is set to 0.8" with an outside margin of 0.5". Top and bottom margins are set to 0.7". The inside margin might be increased if the book has a lot of pages.
  • Hyphenation is always turned on.
To format the interior, I use Word's two-page format so I can see two pages at once. When doing this, it is very important to realize that when the book is printed, the page on the right of the printed book is actually the page on the left in Word. To get all of my chapters to start on a right-facing page, I either insert a blank page or (if there is a small amount of text on the last page) I adjust the line spacing of the paragraphs a few pages back by very small (0.2 points) increments until the chapter lines up properly. I try to keep the amount of white space on the last page of a chapter to a minimum but this can't always be avoided.

Formatting a book takes time but it is an indication that you care about the product you're asking the reader to purchase.

If anyone wants more information or has any questions I can answer, please feel free to email me. I won't give you a guess if I don't know the answer. It's better to say "I don't know" than to steer someone in the wrong direction.

2017-05-07

Formatting

The formatting of Peacekeeper Pathogen is now complete. All of the corrections suggested by my two proofreaders (my wife and Ekkehard Flessa) have been entered and both the Kindle version and the Createspace (print) version are complete. All that's left now is to build the full cover for the print version and then wait for May 29 when the book will be released.

In the past, I would have just uploaded everything and then made the book available for sale. Pre-orders, however, are an important part of getting a new book off to a running start. If a book is released without doing pre-orders, it starts off at the bottom of the enormous pile of books being sold on Amazon. If the author chooses to run pre-orders, all of the pre-orders are applied on the day the book is released instantly moving it up a bit in the ranks. If you are thinking of reading Peacekeeper Pathogen, please consider pre-ordering it now. Even if you are not able to read it right away, the electronic copy will always be on your shelf waiting.

Ensuring a manuscript is free from grammatical errors, has a solid story, and (in the case of a series) does not conflict with what's been told in past books provides the reader with a good experience. This is a requirement if an author wants to be viewed as a true writer. Properly formatting the book's interior is a sign of a professional writer. Many writers pay for these services. Some have received poor results. I am lucky to have an international cooperative to help me get my books ready for the rest of the world.

My wife and I live in the State of Ohio in the United States. My content editor (Lee Dilkie) lives in Canada. My cover artist lives in Minnesota. My final proofreader (Ekkehard Flessa) is a German engineer. Without the help of these people, I would either have to pay to have my book professionally edited. I didn't always have this much help. Lee and Ekkehard were readers who were kind enough to send in corrections to my earlier books. Now, they are people I trust to help me produce the best book possible.

Formatting for Kindle is simple and easy to do if you read the formatting guidelines available on Amazon's website. I use Microsoft Word and a small set of specialized styles to create the Kindle version. Amazon can take a Word .docx file and convert it to Kindle format. I do a thorough check of the converted book using Amazon's online viewer.

Formatting for Createspace takes a bit more work. I use Createspace to produce the printed versions of my books. Formatting for print is more difficult than formatting for Kindle and I did a lot of research a couple years ago to ensure I was doing it correctly. The knowledge I gained from that research caused me to go back and completely reformat all my previous works. Instead of going into the details of this formatting process, I will save it for next week's post.

My studies into website design are progressing very well. I've finished a slightly out-of-date 600 page book on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I read it quickly just to get an overview of things. Now, I'm reading an up-to-date book on those same subjects. I have other books on standby that will be read as I continue learning. When I feel I have reached a point where I can start work on my new author website, I will build it using a small server I've set up on a laptop connected to my home network. If all goes well, the new site will be ready to upload when my contract with my current host runs out.

As always, if anyone has any questions I might be able to answer, please feel free to email me. I reply to all valid requests. My email is: author at dougfarren dot com

2017-04-30

Peacekeeper Pathogen

Peacekeeper Pathogen is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Pre-order sales do not become active until the day the book is officially released. In my case, this is May 29. On that day, all of the pre-orders hit my Amazon indicator and my book will start off somewhere near the middle of the pack in the ranking instead of at the bottom. That's why it's so important to collect as many pre-order sales as possible. If you're interested in reading this book, please pre-order and help give me a boost.

Sales have been okay recently but there has been a clear downward trend again over the past couple of weeks. I've had several people recommend that I raise the price of my books--I could not disagree more. I am a firm believer that this country is heading for disaster and it's all driven by greed. Just because I can charge more does not mean I should. I do treat my writing as a business and businesses are gauged by their profitability. I don't charge the business for my time to write a book. I am totally self-published and my only costs are what I pay to have an artist build a cover. My actual cost to create a book is very minimal.

There are other costs associated with my writing business:

  • Mileage linked to attending meetings, selling books, getting to the airport for business trips, etc.
  • Partial cost of the internet to my house.
  • Business card printing.
  • Paper and other office supplies such as software license renewals and purchases.
  • Writing-related trips (Launch Pad in particular).
  • Magazines and books associated with the business.
When it is all compiled at tax time, my writing business has a variable record. I took a loss three years ago and broke even the last two. This year, because I'm limiting my trips to only one (Launch Pad), I will show a profit.

Raising my prices might bring in more royalty payments but it could also have the opposite effect. If I raise my price too much, then people will be less inclined to buy a copy. Since I don't rely on my book sales to support myself and my wife, I can keep my prices low enough to cover my business expenses and make my books affordable at the same time. I would rather see a large number of sales than a large royalty check. It's the thought that there are large numbers of people out there who are enjoying my books that keeps me writing. That is why I write.

I haven't been working on my next book at all this past week. I've been concentrating on learning how to build web pages. I'm almost done with one book and I will be starting on another soon. I have prepared an older computer to be set up as a local web server (Ubuntu operating system and full LAMP install as suggested by several author friends). The long-range plan is to hand-code my author website and have it fully tested and ready to roll out on a new host when my contract with my current host is up for renewal.

2017-04-23

Dilemma

 My current day job is doing Microsoft Access programming. I love to write code! The joy of seeing a program you've written running, generating the data you asked it to produce and functioning correctly is hard to describe. One might think that after work I would rather spend my free time doing other things--like writing. Not so recently!

I've embarked on a quest to learn web programming. This involves becoming familiar with many different technologies. For now, I'm focusing on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Using just those three technologies, a person can build some incredibly sophisticated websites. Recently, I've been torn between continuing my web studies or writing. It's been a tough choice.

Writing at one level is a lot like programming. Both work within the semantics of a specific language. Both involve stringing together the small pieces of that language in a specific pattern to produce a final product. Both require the creator to think ahead--often far ahead. Rewrites are common and mistakes can cause the whole thing to stop working. I love writing and seeing a final product available for purchase and seeing the good reviews is also a thrill that's hard to describe. When programming and writing both become a priority, a dilemma is created.

Why am I working on learning web technology? Several reasons: As some of you might recall, the power plant I work at could be sold or closed within the next 18 to 24 months. Learning a new programming skill will help if I need to find a new job if I'm laid off. I also would like to revamp my author website. Right now, that website is being hosted by a company that insists on forcing the subscriber to build websites using their proprietary web-builder software. Although it's pretty slick, there are now things I want to do that can't be done on this host. I plan on moving my site to a different host where I can hand-build my website as I see fit.

I did manage to finish the first chapter of my next book though. It's a sequel to Off Course and it will provide a hard link between that short 2-book series to my Dragonverse series. Science fiction and the world of dragons all come together--who could ask for more? It's not going to be an easy book to write because one of the primary characters is an AI. Once I get past the first few chapters though, I think things will begin to move along quickly.

Speaking of books, Peacekeeper Pathogen should be on its way to my second-level review very shortly. The first round of proofing is nearly complete with only three chapters remaining. I'm hoping to have it in the hands of my German reader by the first of the month. I also just got back the revised cover art and it looks perfect. That will allow me to begin working on the cover. If all goes well, you will see it when I post next week.