Self Publishing

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 8, 2012

Filed under: Projects 147 comments


Because many people have been asking me, here is a meandering overview of the process and reasoning behind self-publishing.

Note that a lot of what I have to say here is based on my own observations, and on views expressed by author Joe Konrath. This is not an authoritative article. Heck, it’s not even particularly well-informed. I’m one of a growing number of people who have returned from the vast, uncharted lands of internet self-publishing, and I’ve drawn a crude little map of what I saw along the way. As more of us take this trip, the picture will become clearer. Until that happens, we’re obliged to rely on scraps and guesses. If you’re really serious about this subject, I think Konrath is your go-to guy. Check out his blog, and good luck to you.

But for the curious, here is what I learned in the process of self-publishing The Witch Watch:

So, you’ve written a book. You’ve got a big ol’ pile of words in your word processor of choice, and now you want people to read it in return for money. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume the book is good.

In traditional publishing, you would begin by spamming the publishing world with your manuscript. Like a desperate job applicant sending out resumes, you send it to everyone who might possibly have an interest in it. Then you wait. Some will reject you. Eventually. Most will ignore you. If you’re very, very lucky, one of them might express an interest in publishing your work.

If this happens, they will take on the burden of printing it, binding it, distributing it, and so on. You might have to do a few revisions, but for the most part your job is done. Your book will show up on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and on However, unless you’re super-famous (we’re talking J.K. Rowling or Stephen King famous, here) you will be left to do the marketing on your own. It will be up to you to get people talking about the book. While they don’t do marketing, the publisher will relieve you of the burden of money, by keeping most of it for themselves. (I think you’ll get 10% or 15% of the sale price.) Also, publishers really only care about the first-wave sales. They don’t have the resources to keep your book on the shelves in case it turns out to be a sleeper hit. Your books sell fast or they get dumped to make room for the next hopeful. Then your books will be pulped into molded fibre and turned into fast food containers, which will be used to serve people high-fat, high-cholesterol foods. This is why failed writers are always so depressed: They’re in anguish over all the people killed by their recycled books.

Eventually, your book will go out of print, and will stop making money. It will vanish. It will not be printed again unless the publisher thinks a significant number of people are still interested in buying it. As an author, I want my books to be on the shelves where I can point them out to friends and talk about how important and famous I am. The publisher does not want my books on the shelf, because books on shelves are books they have paid to produce but not yet sold.

To sum up traditional publishing: After you finish your book, the work will sit around for a year or more making no money at all, giving you no return on investment. Then if you’re lucky it will earn money for a limited time, of which you will get a small percent. The publisher will only do marketing for you if you don’t need it. After that, the book will vanish and only your future fame can bring it back for additional printings.

Which brings us to the alternative:

You can take your manuscript and publish it yourself.

I put this image here to break up this cruel wall of text. It’s not actually very funny.
I put this image here to break up this cruel wall of text. It’s not actually very funny.

First, you should really have an editor. Someone who knows books. Someone who knows stories. Someone who knows language. I was lucky enough to have C. L. Dyck available for this job. If I’d brought her in a bit earlier in the process, I might have saved myself from a few blunders. At any rate, her feedback improved the book a great deal.

Editing in this case can mean re-writing.

This scene where Darth Vader goes shopping with a couple of storm troopers feels a little out of place, thematically. Yes, I’m sure Vader sometimes needs new shoes just like everyone else, but this might be a good section to cut.

It can mean re-naming things.

Are you sure you want to have two opposing villains named Sauron and Saruman?

It can mean re-organizing things.

Do you really want to tell the story of Vincent Vega like this, instead of putting it into the proper chronological order?

It might even mean making changes to the events of the story.

Are you sure Doc Ock should throw a car at Peter Parker, when he doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man and Peter has information he needs?

Some things you will gladly change. Some you will grudgingly change. Some you will refuse to change. The important thing is that you make these decisions deliberately, and not because you overlooked them. An editor will, at the very least, make you think about your mistakes before you commit them to paper.

Once you’re done changing things and messing around with story and structure, it’s time for proofreading. You need a few people to go through and look for bad spelling, typos, bad punctuation, and so on. The more people you have helping, the fewer you will miss. I had four people read over my book, and we still managed to overlook a couple of missing quotes or commas.

Once all of that is done, you are ready to pick a method of distribution. There are a lot of ways to do this. We went with Smashwords.

Smashwords is a distributor. They are digital-only, but you can use them to get your work out to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Sony, and Kobo. They also sell PDF and HTML versions directly. If you can get your book into the Smashwords premium catalog, then it can reach a lot of different stores and devices. Unfortunately, their submission process is clunky, frustrating, and time-consuming.

They accept manuscripts in .doc format. Yes, as in “Microsoft Office” doc format. That’s bad enough, but you’re not actually allowed to use 99.9% of the features of the doc format. No special fonts. You’ve got a generic variable-width font, and a monospace font. You’ve got italics and bold, but no underline. You’ve got two font sizes. The doc describing how to format for Smashwords is almost TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND WORDS. (One-fifth the size of my book.)

Now, I understand these limits. They have to get the book into many disparate devices and formats, which limits functionality. The problem is that if you go beyond these limits, the document import will FAIL. Instead of stripping or ignoring unwanted info, Smashwords pukes and refuses to proceed.

You have an accountant? What do they count?
You have an accountant? What do they count?

This is a problem because of the crazy stuff that Microsoft Office does. Like, if I copy & paste a bit of text from a Wikipedia page into my book because I want to make sure I get the spelling right, it brings in all of the formatting & font info. This can also happen if I’m pasting from another word processor, or from a raw text file. Even if I clear that rogue formatting, Word kind of keeps those around. I’ll often find blank lines or single spaces in my document where, if I enter some text in the dead space, it will begin typing in some unexpected font face and size. That single, invisible, unused font-switch is enough to kill the Smashwords import, and Smashwords won’t tell you where it is.

In the case of my book, Heather had to copy the entire book as raw text – thus removing all formatting – and then paste it into a fresh, clean document. This destroyed all of my italics, which she had to then painstakingly restore by hand. (I use a lot of italics in dialog, because it tells us how the characters are reading their lines – which is a crucial part of their performance!) It’s just dumb and stupid and broken and infuriating. And if you want to insert images? Like we did? Well, that’s ANOTHER layer of headache and hassle.

This is made worse by the Smashwords policy of using the doc format, of all things. In HTML you can see and remove orphaned format shifts and other cruft, but not docs. And these formatting aberrations seem to proliferate in doc files.

Even once you have a doc that Smashwords will accept, you’re still not done. Now you have something that will (in programmer’s parlance) compile, but you don’t know if it will run. It’s possible that some formatting fluke or unexpected behavior will cause things to look wrong on certain e-readers, or for the chapter links to not work. (That’s a bad one. Believe me, you don’t want to be forced to press “next page” 500 times to get to page 500.)

Smashwords has the additional problem that it puts your book for sale the moment you upload. So, you don’t know if it will accept your doc, but if it does, it might look wrong and instantly go up for sale in that condition. And the only way to test it is to upload the doc, wait five minutes for the conversion to finish, then download the various converted e-reader versions and check them. Manually. One at a time.

Heather got around this step by using Calibre. She would export the doc as (brace yourself) HTML, and then bring the HTML into Calibre, and then examine it. If it looked okay, then she would upload the doc to Smashwords.

Yes, this is stupid and horrible, and it’s shameful that word processing needs to be this damn convoluted here in 2012. And of course, there are the various platform evangelists who shout helpful advice of using this-or-that word processor. Because, if it worked great for your term paper two years ago then it will naturally work awesome for a 120k word book with chapters, font style changes, and full-page images.

(That last remark was directed at you LaTeX evangelists. Look, I don’t mind hearing about LaTeX, or about the success you’ve had with it. I’ve poked around with it and it’s an interesting thing, but it is not a silver bullet. LaTeX is trading one set of problems for another. I might use it someday, but LaTeX can’t solve the ludicrous Smashwords import problems. The moment you roll in here and start claiming that it will be “easy”, I will conclude that you simply don’t understand the size and scope of the problem. Also, the LaTeX method of doing italics and bold is an \emph{ugly and inelegant \textbf{abomination}}!)

Of course, we could avoid all of this Smashwords difficulty by manually uploading to each and every e-book site ourselves: iTunes, Amazon, B&N, etc etc. But that means instead of converting once to Smashwords, we would need to convert several times, to many different places. And maintain accounts in all those places. And get paid in all those places. And manually adjust prices in all those places. Smashwords is such a nightmare we might try this for the next book, but either way we’re going to lose a lot of hours converting various flavors of text files, which isn’t something I was expecting to have to do in the far-flung future world of 2012.

Tip for the person who made this: I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but if you’ve got employees then you are NOT an “aspiring writer”. Also… are you hiring?
Tip for the person who made this: I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but if you’ve got employees then you are NOT an “aspiring writer”. Also… are you hiring?

Done? Now you need a print version. Which means you’ll need to re-format the entire book, all over again. E-books are formatted like a webpage: A continuous spew of words. Print versions have page numbers. The images need to be in a much larger DPI. You can’t lay out the cover until you know how many physical pages it’ll be, because you need to know how thick to make the spine. The pages need headers and footers to make sure there’s an indication of chapter & page number on each page, so people can navigate the dang thing. It’s generally good form to make chapters begin with a bit of fanfare. (For example, the name of the chapter alone on a left-hand page, and the the text beginning about a third of the way down on the right-hand page. You’ll need to insert blank pages as needed to make this happen.) If you’re really looking to impress, you might want to throw in some drop caps or other bits of typographical flair.

Now it’s time to print the book. The margins are way better if you can buy copies of your own book in bulk and sell them yourself, but that takes money and storage space and you’re basically launching a mail-order business out of your home. There are some up-front costs to deal with, and the question of where you’re going to stick all those books while you wait for people to buy them. Remember that books react poorly to dust, moisture, sunlight, children, pets, pests, fire, mold, oils, humidity, and everything else in your house. Assuming you’re not already amazingly famous (and if you are famous, then why are you reading this newbie guide, and while we’re at it would you plug my book?) then you’re probably not going to have a clue as to how many books you’ll need. You can quickly find yourself in the predicament of traditional publishers where you can miss out on a lot of profit if you print too few books and you can lose your shirt if you print a lot more than you can sell. This is a risky game. Good luck to you if you go this route.

For the rest of us, we’re going to have to sacrifice a bit of our profit margins by going with print-on-demand. I’ve used Createspace and Lulu. I’m favoring Createspace right now because it plays nice with Amazon, making it possible for people to order the print version from the Amazon store. This means you’ll have two companies taking a bite on top of your printing expenses, which can eat a significant portion of your margin. However, the Amazon market is HUGE, and it has a lot of “People who liked book A also liked book B” type stuff. This is really handy if you happen to be book B.

In my previous book, I encouraged people to buy directly from Createspace, so I could make more money per book sold. For The Witch Watch, I sent people to Amazon in the hopes that my book would climb up the best seller list, be shown to new prospective buyers, and end up selling to people beyond the reach of my humble blog. The results of this little experiment are still inconclusive. To be fair, Amazon has STILL not properly listed my book, almost a week after it was put up. Oh, it’s for sale, but the reviews aren’t cross-linked with the Kindle version, it took them days to put up the product description, and it’s not really suggesting my print book to people.

So, I have no idea if it’s better to go for more money per unit by selling directly or go for a wider audience through Amazon.

In any case, you’re going to prepare a print version and send it in to your print-on-demand service of choice. Then you will be obliged to purchase (at base print cost) a printed proof. It’s cheap. (I think it cost me around $5.) The biggest drawback is that you need to wait for it to arrive. Then you can thumb through it (or, if you’re being mature and responsible, read it, again) and make sure everything looks fine. If you’re happy with the proof, you can put the book up for sale.

My wife Heather did a lot of these steps, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some or omitted small details that vexed her. In any case, I hope this article was able to help you understand why quitting your day job was a horrible idea and you should never have tried to become an author. I mean, what were you thinking?


From The Archives:

147 thoughts on “Self Publishing

  1. Glenn says:

    Great article — miroring most of my experience right now. I didn’t have too many problems with my Smashwords upload, but Createspace is absolutely killing me right now. I downloaded their formatted template to upload my book to, pasted everything in, spent two days getting all of the elements consistent, paging right (pain, that — getting chapters started on odd pages and such). Then I upload … and it chokes because there is a font it doesn’t recognize that isn’t embedded. It’s not a font I have installed (Myriad Pro), or that I used — it was in the template they gave me. So I go through and find where it is referenced, and change the font. Upload. Puke. Change fonts. Upload. Puke. Change fonts (the page number on 246 was inexplicably in this font). Rinse, repeat. At the same time it is puking up some of the photos for not having enough resolution, so I’ve pated in original files and the original 1 MB file is now 100 Mb, which means it takes ten times as long to save, upload, check, and autoformat.

    A week of evenings thus far and I’m still stuck on the font business, even after doing a “Select all” and changing the entire document to a single font, then going back and correcting all the headings and chapter titles. Smashwords has been positively enjoyable in comparison.

    1. Sumanai says:

      Someone below mentioned that in Word you can open up a list of typefaces etc. the document uses. It would seem that would help.

      However, man that’s dumb. It sounds like Createspace is griefing you.

      1. Glenn says:

        I certainly feel griefed.

        I went through the whole style/formatting review drill and couldn’t find whatever is causing the error. I’ve executed a “Select All” and changed everything (again). I’ve tried a forced convert, now … hope that solves it.

        Anyway, argh. Good thing I’m not quitting my day job. I’m up to about six sales of the digital edition, though. Go me!

    2. Heather says:

      Yeah, tried their template. Better to reset the margins on the book to match the template. Set the whole book to default style, then manually create a few styles and page styles that suit your needs. I open the template in a separate window so I can make everything line up but don’t use the template for the actual book. MUCH easier and straight forward.

      1. Jethro says:

        This makes the process of self-publishing a card game look like a cake-walk. The toughest decision was finding a production facility that met the right cost/quality ratio.

        Assuming the game development is done:

        1) Look on Alibaba for Chinese companies specialising in playing cards. Talk to 20 reps via online chat, and get emailed quotes.

        2) Pick one based on their previous deals (recognised products) that establish quality, and cost.

        3) Find an artist willing to make you a sweet deal on the art assets (hat tip to you, Mrs. Young!). Pay the advance and collect the assets.

        4) Assemble the art assets in Illustrator, and upload to factory. (Incidentally, they would accept .pdf, .jpg, .ia, or whatever, as long as it met the dpi requirements.)

        5) Pay the factory for the die costs and a sample run. Wait for sample to arrive.

        6) Like the samples, order the print run, send the Paypal, and wait.

        7) Wish that POD was more economical for card games and that you didn’t have to buy 1K copies using your tax return.

        8) ?

        9) Profit.

  2. Destrustor says:

    Ow. That looks like such an ordeal. You should treat yourself to something nice now.
    Good luck with the book!

  3. Vextra says:

    That’s why you don’t quit your day job. amd just lie to yourself for twenty years that you’ll publish that great manuscript one day. Yeah. Once i’ve polished it a bit more. You know.

    But all joking aside, this has been awesomely informative. I’ve decided for some time that I won’t be going the Traditional Publishing route when the time comes, so it’s great to see this stuff laid out like this for the New Media routes.

    But for those that do want to publish the Old Way, there’s a tonne of advice out there if you know where to look, and I’m fairly sure the National Union of Writers here in the UK publishes a yearly brick that has all the details about various Publishing companies for you to contact.

    1. Chuck says:

      I can’t decide if I’m going the traditional route because I’m stubborn or because I’m deluding myself into thinking my books won’t sell if I self publish.

      Wait, it’s because technology frightens me…

      Can’t you do both? Set up a kindle version while the publishing house prepares the book version? Does the traditional route make more sense for someone who plans on writing a lot of books? And if you get a literary agent, do they do most of the marketing legwork?

      Also, for non-fiction, you have to go with the University presses, but that’s a different issue.

      1. Heather says:

        If you want to go the traditional route pick up a copy of Writer’s Market for 2012 (

        Patricia C. Wrede who is a well established writer has a recent series of posts that talk about being an author in the traditional publishing (the article linked is the final post in the series):

        No– most traditional publishers prefer that you give them the whole book rights and not publish elsewhere.

        You have to re-market each manuscript to different publishers, once you have a publisher it is more likely that other publishers will pick up your book.

        The literary agent helps you get in where it is tricky to get in marketing wise but in general you still have to do most of the legwork.

        1. Chuck says:

          Thank you, Mrs. Young.

          I have the 2010 WM, I should get the new edition at least every few years.

          So if there is an ebook version, its done through the publishing house. That makes sense.

  4. kikito says:

    I’m not going to defend LateX, because I think it’s often overkill.

    But what about other plain-text-based formats? In particular, markdown will allow you to write headings, italics & bolds very easily:

    # A heading starts with a sharp character

    ## A subheading with two, and so on

    A paragraph is just plain text surrounded with empty lines.

    You can do *italics* and **bolds**, too.

    And then it will generate a simple, standard-compliant HTML from that. It can also accept embedded images, and it accepts plain html for the tricky parts if you have them.

    And if that was not possible – wouldn’t it have been less of a hassle to write the text directly in html instead of in word? Or does Smashwords require .doc files?

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes, it requires .doc files. Insanity.

      I like the look of markdown. I suppose markdown » HTML » doc » Smashwords is possible, but that might be more jumps than is wise.

      1. When I read this, I winced:

        In the case of my book, Heather had to copy the entire book as raw text ““ thus removing all formatting ““ and then paste it into a fresh, clean document.

        you just described what I ad to do ten times while writing my dissertation.

        The upside of that however was that I become godly proficient in figuring out how to actually force Word to my will. Nowadays I am the master of Paste-as-unformatted-text and modify-style and the best tool of all, “Normal text”

        If/when you write your next book, or for any future writing project, please never do the bulk copy and paste again. Drop me an email, we can talk on the phone and I can teach you how to save HOURS of time dealing with Word’s inanities in just 20 minutes.

        Many brain cells of mine died for this information. So lets not let their sacrifice be in vain.

        1. Stephen says:

          Yeah, I’m not sure where it is in versions of Word post-2003, but you should live and die by two features:

          Paste Special > Unformatted Text (treats your pasted text as if it was coming straight out of notepad so it takes the style of the line you’re pasting into)

          Styles and Formatting > Show Formatting in Use (You can see all the styles you have in your doc. If you see a style that shouldn’t be, usually something like HTML format because it came from a web page, just right click it, select all X instances, and then click another style to apply over it. Repeat until it disappears on its own or at least tells you there are 0 instances when you right click it.)

          1. SteveDJ says:

            The way I like to think of Paste Special -> Unformatted Text is: Imagine the computer is just re-typing the contents of the clipboard, into whatever type/style where the cursor currently is.

            I use it ALL THE TIME when trying to copy anything from the web – and it works like a charm.

            Best of all, the latest Word 2010 (with that ribbon-menu system) has Paste button right there in the upper-left corner. And it has a little dropdown below it. Under the dropdown, there is “Unformatted Text” version of Paste Option … though now it is just called “Keep Text Only”. But the point being, it is faster than the old way of PasteSpecial->UnformattedText – now just a single, dragged, click.

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      If I understand TeX, you could define \B{} and \I{}, but that misses the point.

      Word will import HTML, so it sounds like a good path is markdown -> HTML -> .doc -> smashwords -> .mobi, .epub, ….

      Also, It’s been a long time since I used Word in anger, but doesn’t it have a “show formatting” option? And the smart tag after paste will let you paste as plain text after the fact. On the other hand, I still think that WYSIWYG is a bad idea.

      1. Ingvar says:

        You can. In LaTeX you can also do {\em bold text and {\sl slanted text}}.

        As someone who did flout the possibility of LaTeX originally, I did that because that’s what I use when I write fiction (as well as when I use non-fiction). Part of iot because it allows me to use a text editor for my writing, it’s damned hard to beat 25 years of hand-on experience with a given text-manipulation tool and I’d lose an awful lot of time trying to work in (say) Word.

        But, just because something works well for me does not mean it works well for someone else. And, yes, I have (idly) considered writing a .doc backend for my (not really usable for anyone else) format-converter that I use to spit out EPUB files from what I’ve written.

    3. Heather says:

      Smashwords and Kindle direct publishing both REQUIRE .doc files. I believe Barnes and Noble does as well but now I forget.

      1. chrisw10 says:

        I was able to upload .mobi through Kindle Direct and .epub through B&N. They ask you to provide .doc files but their systems can handle their respective eBook file formats.

        Smashwords definitely requires .doc though.

  5. noahpocalypse says:

    Ouch. That sounds excruciatingly painful.

    On a brighter note, how are the sales so far?

    1. Heather says:

      Pretty good for a first self-published in a new genre. Mostly through Amazon (which takes twice as much as Createspace).

  6. Solf says:

    In case this might be helpful in the future — it’s far more difficult to do that it has any right to be — but it *IS* possible via macros and something to setup Word in a such a way that you’ll have a keyboard shortcut for “Paste unformatted text”.

    It is lifesaver if you have to work with Word.

    But I don’t have Word at the moment, so can’t provide any details — just know that it is certainly possible.

  7. MichaelG says:

    What would happen if you wrote in HTML, using only the simplest formatting, then imported that into Word? You could proofread on a browser, and I wouldn’t think Word would add any font changes that aren’t in the original.

    1. Shamus says:

      Which is kind of what we’re thinking of doing. I mean, it’s INSANE that this is even a viable idea. Word is this huge, bloatedfeature-rich” behemoth with all these bells and whistles, and we’re using it as a file format converter.

      This is made more cumbersome by the fact that I write in Word, so to convert I’d have to save as raw text and import back in as HTML.

      And of course the killer part of all of these conversion chains is when you get into editing. A one-time jump of word, HTML, DOC, Smashwords is not really something to cry about. But when you’ve got revisions and problems appearing in proof copies and you need to make repeated changes to the core document, it quickly becomes a nightmare.

      The more I think about this, the more I think that Smashwords is just a villain here. Relying on a hated, obfuscated, proprietary file format is bonkers when there are SO MANY popular, clear, open alternatives out there. Even if it’s more work, we should route around them on general principles.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Hear, hear!

      2. Groboclown says:

        I ended up going with the OpenOffice approach when my wife published her two books. She wrote it all in OpenOffice, and I formatted that for the publishing output (there’s a very, very nice PDF export feature with it that works nice with CreateSpace). I then hacked some Python scripts together to parse the Open Document formatted text and transform it by using templates into the expected output. Doesn’t help with Microsoft DOC format, but it worked for constructing the epub and mobi formatted texts.

        1. Heather says:

          I actually do all editing and formatting in Libreoffice. And yes, we used pdf export for Createspace. Sadly Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kindle selfpublishing all require doc. (Neither of us know Python). Looks like our next thing is to use calibre and just create files for direct download to be bought on the site.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Out of curiosity: How did smashwords like the .docs exported from Libreoffice? Did you use them directly, or adjust later in MS word?

            1. No problem once I figured out what needed done (easier than doing from Microsoft Office in fact since OpenOffice adds less weirdness.)

      3. chrisw10 says:

        The workflow I established for my YA book The Lightforce Rebellion works pretty well for me, so maybe you might want to try it.

        I write in Scrivener, which is great because it has all sorts of organizational features and does none of the wacky formatting things that Word does. From there I can export directly to Kindle .mobi, .epub, .doc, or HTML. But I don’t use Scrivener’s epub export option because I don’t like how it formats the HTML (font tags on every single paragraph instead of using style sheets!!). But the Kindle formatting couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

        For the ePub Barnes & Noble version I export to HTML from Scrivener and use JEdit and judicious use of the find/replace command to create a better HTML file (based heavily on this guide). Then I use Calibre to package it to ePub.

        For the Smashwords version, I export to .doc from Scrivener. Instead of opening this document up in Word to fix formatting issues, I use OpenOffice, which doesn’t do the same funky things to .doc files that Word does, ensuring that Smashwords’ meat grinder doesn’t choke on it. You can optionally use this helpful template by J. Daniel Sawyer. I did and Smashwords took my novel on the first try. I still had to fix some formatting mistakes, but the meat grinder didn’t choke on it.

        On the question of keeping track of content (not formatting) changes across all three versions, I put version numbers in my file names and then keep a changelog in Scrivener of what changes I make for each version number. Once all formatting is done, I can go back through the changelog and apply each change to all three docs.

        1. Ingvar M says:

          But I don't use Scrivener's epub export option because I don't like how it formats the HTML (font tags on every single paragraph instead of using style sheets!!).

          ! I think I now why one thing I got as epub needed extensive surgery to the internal data before I could read it (in short, the hard-coded font-size was too small for the reader I used, after unpacking the epub and ripping out all the FONT tags on every single paragraph, it was suddenly readable).

          1. chrisw10 says:

            Exactly. HTML files meant to become ebooks should have no size or font tags so that the reader may choose his own.

            Out of curiousity, what eReader were you using? The Kindles I’ve used just ignore these tags if they’re present, but not every eReader device does.

    2. Kayle says:

      All the major ebook formats are essentially syntactic and semantic subsets of HTML already (and nearly the same subsets), its the metadata and packaging (primarily DRM) which are different. So doing the writing in HTML makes a lot of sense. Moreover, recent versions of Microsoft Office use XML for their file formats, it seems reasonable that converting from HTML directly to the .docx is possible. If not, conversion to RTF ought to be very easy, which may be accepted by Smashwords, or if not, is easily importable into Word for conversion.

  8. ClearWater says:

    I thought MS Word used to have an opion to actually see the formatting. Or did I dream that?

    1. Abnaxis says:

      It’s there, but then you’re still hunting through the whole document looking for stray formatting stuff that’s out of place. And the option highlights everything–spaces, new lines, headers, footers, bold, italics, tab stops…finding rogue formatting inconsistencies is like finding a needle in a haystack

  9. Abnaxis says:

    A lot of times when I have to copy crap from a word file to a text file and back to make the formatting work, I leave myself breadcrumbs. Like, put a ‘[‘ next to where I want italics and a ‘=’ next to where I want bold. Or make shortcut keys for Greek characters (the trick is to pick breadcrumbs that aren’t used anywhere else in the text). Then, after I transfer back and forth, I do a Find All for my breadcrumbs, and that expedites my process.

    Though really, it seems like the same sort of thing as Markdown (the way it was described above at least, I’ve never used it), so Markdown might be easier.

    1. Heather says:

      This is what Shamus is learning to do. Makes it much simpler.

      1. collar says:

        You could probably write a Word macro (shudder) to apply formatting based on your rules (or a subset of markdown) to your unformatted document and spit the result into a new document.

        That way you have your raw master document and convert from there. No doubt there would probably be a lot of problems due to random Word quirks, but at least Shamus could solve them in code. I can spend twice as long coding to solve a problem rather than doing it manually and enjoy it, even if I might never make the difference up.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      Also you can use Find and replace to search by style, and add in those breadcrumbs ‘automatically’

      1. Problem was he was using spacing to indicate where things should be– now he knows to put a character not extra spaces since those get lost with ebooks.

  10. Dasick says:

    I don’t know how it works in the states, but back in the Motherland an aspiring writer can try to get her short stories published in magazines and papers. Yeah yeah, I know, no one reads magz and papers anymore and I need to trade in my brontosaurus for a proper car, but when you’ve got a history of print, the publishers will take a closer look at your stuff. Simply because as ancient relics they have a natural respect for other ancient relics. Plus the stuff you put into mags is pretty easy to put online.

    I know that writing short stories is many times harder while it carries a significantly reduced amount of fame (go figure), but you’ll be getting a consistent paycheck and slowly, but surely, building up your standing to bring down the chance of your masterpiece flopping. I mean, going from 99% to just a plain old 90% is ten times the difference, right?

  11. Abnaxis says:

    I freaking hate when you have to use doc format for a document (which is sadly, woefully common). Every time I have to give a job submittal in word format, or completely restart a resume because my potential employer won’t take anything else, I want to punch whoever instantiated that policy.

    1. krellen says:

      I have literally never encountered a job that wouldn’t accept a PDF resume in lieu of a DOC one.

      There are those odd places that have stupidly set-up online applications that make you replicate your resume in their forms instead of just uploading it, but anywhere I could upload a document, a PDF was just fine.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Maybe it’s a recent development?

        Incidentally, now that I think of it, the worst offenders were engineering employment firms I gave my resume to. You’d think, of all places, those would be the ones that were more format agnostic.

        But yeah, most larger companies I applied to forced me to mangle my resume into a Word document 50% of the time. I think it’s because larger companies are more likely to try to automate their human resources, so they want it in their format for their robot.

        1. krellen says:

          New Mexico is a pretty small state. Not a lot of “larger companies” here (Intel’s the only major one I can think of), so I’m probably not applying to the same places.

        2. Bubble181 says:

          More of the opposite, in my experience. In the late nineties to early 2000s, only accepting .doc was normal/common. Heck, the Belgian *state* only accepted proof of purchases (for tax deductions) as .doc. Yes, that meant pretty much everyone had to scan it in, open it as a picture, copy-paste it in word, and mail them .docs with just a picture in there. Madness.
          Anyway, over the past few years I’ve seen .pdf become more accepted – probably with the more widespread availability and possibilities of pdf writers? I dunno. Either way, .doc is, to many people, still the “standard” format. Unfortunately.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Just yesterday someone made me “electronically sign” a document, by pasting a scan of my signature into a PDF. They didn’t even think about how I’d get the signature into the pdf, but lucky for me, inkscape does that pretty well these days. I briefly thought about making a few changes to the document before sending it back…

            I think people get used to doing one thing, and then it becomes a ritual. Or they only learn to use one software and then they _need_ to use that because that’s what they know.

            Actually, someone once explained to me it was easier to send pictures embedded in .docs, because of word’s “send as e-mail” feature…

            1. krellen says:

              I grumble inside a bit every time someone asks me about “electronic signatures” meaning that process you did, since “Electronic Signature” is an actual thing that exists, but is something else altogether (similar, but different.)

              1. Zak McKracken says:

                I got me a properly signed pair of GPG keys a few years back, but I know almost noone who also uses GPG these days, so I used it so seldom that I forgot the passphrase at some pint, so now I’m without again :(

  12. Abnaxis says:

    Incidentally, if I may ask, how is your book doing? Making enough to keep you out of the classified ads? Too soon to tell?

    1. krellen says:

      Speaking of selling, I’m going to point out once again that you don’t have any links on your main site that make it easy to buy your books. That “Author” top nav bar link still doesn’t go to anything that leads to your sales pages.

      1. Heather says:

        Here here. (I am in charge of the author page but NOT anything on THIS site.)

        1. krellen says:

          I am so glad you’re on my side here, Heather. I thought I was starting to be annoying. ;)

          1. HAhaha, just realized I used the wrong hear. Stupid brain sort of day. Sigh. Plan to discuss this with him more tomorrow.

            1. krellen says:

              I like the new blurbage.

              Although I am now expecting to see something like this soon.

  13. evileeyore says:

    Good God! People are still writting in Word?

    I use Notepad (actually Notepad++ these days) and then just put it into word and add my formating there. That way it starts out clean.

    1. Nathon says:

      Word? Notepad? What about real editors like Emacs? *duck*

      I do actually write English using Emacs, but that’s just because I write far more code than English. Once you’ve become one with your editor, there’s very little that can convince you to switch. I have a friend who swore by Joe until it corrupted a file on him. Then he conducted a search for a replacement and finally settled on Joe.

      1. Sumanai says:

        Emacs? You’re using that bloated mess? Start using something sensible, like Vi.

        Actually I use Vim (gVim, to be precise), and the reason I use it is that years ago when I tried Linux the computer I used took its sweet time starting Emacs, and I usually needed to just make quick little edits to config files. So I don’t actually have anything against Emacs or its users.

        1. MichaelG says:

          “ed” was good enough in 1972, and it’s good enough now!

          1. Sumanai says:

            I actually tried using ed. Someday, when I’m feeling masochistic enough, I’ll try it again.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          obligatory xkcd reference:

          … and I’m an nedit man!

          1. Sumanai says:

            I love that strip. I like the joke in general (someone says something, someone takes it a step further etc. until it gets completely ridiculous), so it really hits the spot.

            Hadn’t heard of nedit before.

        3. Ingvar M says:

          Start using something sensible, like Vi.

          Actually I use Vim (gVim, to be precise),

          And it started so well. Every time someone abandons vi for the bloated mess that is vim, ed dies a bit more.

          I don’t mind vi, but vim messes with my brain-finger interface, it doesn’t visually behave like the vi I learned.

          1. Sumanai says:

            Vi, or nvi to be precise, has some minor annoyances that I have trouble tolerating. The reason I use gVim in particular is that I use Windows mainly.

            Which is kind of funny, since the computer I used when I started learning Vi most likely would’ve taken its own time starting gVim as well, meaning I would’ve started using another text editor.

            1. Ingvar M says:

              The main reason I prefer nvi to vim is “it behaves like the vi I learned 20+ years ago” (every time I type cw into vim, I go “Erp! Something I did not intend just happened” and that’s been the case for almost 10 years now, it’s SUPPOSED to stick a $ at the end of the word, not remove it from the screen, *snf*).

              1. Sec says:

                “:set compatible” is the quick and easy way to get vim to behave like vi.
                If it’s only the “stick $ at the end of your change area” a “:set cpoptions+=$” will do that for you.

                1. Sumanai says:

                  Of course if you don’t want to do that every time you start Vim, you’ll want to write them in the vimrc.

      2. evileeyore says:

        Okay now, I didn’t say anything about “real writters”.

        All I said was (without as nearly as much detial or insult towards MSWord) that I couldn’t believe anyone continued to use MSWord for base document creation and complained about unecessary formatting nonsense when unecessary formatting nonsense is all that MSWord gets right. ;)

      3. Darkness says:


        I have never loaded emacs past the first time back on a 80296 PC/AT. After that lousy experience I specifically blocked all emacs ever since. I even block downloading emacs files from mirror sites.

    2. Chuck says:

      I forget how out of my demographic I am on this site sometimes.

      Then I read discussions like this and I realize how ignorant I am compared to everyone else who reads this blog. Ah, well.

      (I use word and have never heard of any other method of typing and saving documents, except for word perfect and notepad.)

      1. Bubble181 says:

        “Ignorant” only in the meaning of “not knowledgeable about a specific topic”, I hope you mean. There’s really no reason to use anything other than a regular word processor and notepad for most people.
        Similarly, I can name…err….3 or 4 photo editing software programs. Maybe. I can name, what, 5 types of clothing a woman can wear on their upper body. Everybody has knowledge that peretains to their world.

        1. Dasick says:

          Sorry to be stripping you comment apart in order to erect my question but that’s the definition of the word. What else can it mean?

    3. Heather says:

      It is frankly because the publishing industry got sucked in early on and thus .doc has become the way you submit anything in the publishing industry. Occasionally they will accept pdf which STILL gets under my skin because BOTH are proprietary software which is very foolish for a n industry to build itself upon. My tagline on my emails includes the following: Please avoid sending me Word or PowerPoint attachments. See It is kind of tongue in cheek on my part but I work with a ton of writers and they drive me NUTS with their insistence on sending me Word files and cluelessness about ANY OTHER TYPE. I don’t think a single one has actually read my link but I feel better having something in there– if I educate just ONE person I will feel at least a little bit better. Both Microsoft and Adobe drive me INSANE.

      1. Alex the Too Old says:

        The writers I’ve known like Word because of its built-in ability to show edits and markups in a friendly, graphical fashion. And that sort of functionality tends to be pretty specific to a given software package – OpenOffice wasn’t an option, for instance.

        1. Heather says:

          OpenOffice/Libreoffice also has that same functionality. In fact the editor friend who looked over Shamus’ book uses Openoffice exclusively to show edits and markups.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        You just gained +2 respect from me

        (although I do admit to using pdf a lot. Just not a lot with the adobe reader)

  14. Nathon says:

    I understand your aversion to writing in LaTeX, though in my opinion it’s less horrible than writing HTML directly. However, have you looked at Lyx? It saves its output to LaTeX, and has a handy GUI that makes it easy to say “this is a chapter title” and “this is bold” without typing out \whatever{stuff}. It’s wonky to install on Windows, but most linux distros have packages for it so you can try it out with a small investment. It’s also got handy menu options that will export to PDF, HTML, plain text, postscript, and png. I don’t know if the HTML output would be suitable for your MS word import, but it’s got to be better than finding all the places where italics are missing and replacing them manually.

  15. Alex the Too Old says:

    Heh, the discussion of file formats and preferred text editors made me think of something I hadn’t thought about in years: In college, I did a lot of web work for the anime club, including posting episode summaries and the occasional blog entry, and I quickly found it most convenient to just write the text of a summary or announcement or whatever directly in Homesite, right in the actual HTML document it was going to belong to, rather than using Word or another general-purpose word processor.

    And now I’m trying to kick myself in the butt to start a blog and/or write fiction again, but the load times and white, staring, blank pages of MS Word / OpenOffice are just too depressing to me. Meanwhile, my day job, er, only job involves a lot of SQL and bits of various procedural programming, so I’m already comfortable typing out color-coded text with command words and enclosing tags as a daily routine. So maybe I should go back to writing in an HTML editor, or something like Notepad++ which I already have and doesn’t cost dozens of dollars. Thanks, people!

    EDIT: huh – the site interprets a “strike” tag as a “spoiler” tag and hides the text, rather than just drawing a line through it to show a visible edit…

  16. Simulated Knave says:

    Having just finished editing a couple of hundred pages in Word: at least in Word 2010, you can paste in unformatted text. Indeed, I believe you can set it as the default option.

  17. Vlad says:

    Very interesting article, enlightening as well.

    So, Shamus, do you think we should copy our reviews from the kindle edition to the paperback? Or will this create problems when they finally DO link the two together?

    1. Heather says:

      We have been pondering that issue– supposedly it will be fixed soon (according to the forums). I think it couldn’t hurt (could always delete them later.)

  18. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Good lord, Shamus! You seem to enjoy being a freelance writer so much, I’ll encourage you by buying your book so you keep doing it! :-D

  19. Eric says:

    Do people still even buy books? No offense intended, but I honestly wonder if being an independent writer is in any way sustainable. Even writing content for others as a freelancer, it’s hard to find anyone who’s willing to pay something that even approaches minimum wage.

    1. krellen says:

      I spend at least $100 on books a year, and I’d spend more if my finances were richer.

    2. Matt K says:

      Um, yes? Seriously, this question is just unfathomable to me.

      It depends on your definition of a book, but I mean look at the Order of the Stick reprint drive which brought in over $1M just to reprint his books. As for print books, whiel I’m not sure about how well off guys like Jim Butcher are doing but he sure seems to sell a lot of books. Also, Barnes & Nobles and some of my local book sellers seem to be doing well enough and they only stock print books.

      @Krellen, $100/year is a bit more than I spend but only if you don’t count comic trades. Otherwise I spend a lot more. Plus last year I spent over $100 just at Borders going out of business sale so I have a huge back log. That said, it just means I’m a little more willing to wait to buy a new one (I did just buy a behind the scenes SNL book since my wife was interested in reading it as well).

      1. Heather says:

        Um, we probably spend $100 a year a the thrift shop for books, plus all the free kindle downloads and cheaper ones ($2.99 and under) with the occasional big name book like LotR and Cryptonomicon just so we don’t have to read the huge bulky things (I have RA so holding a big heavy book for long periods of time tends to be bad.) And there are only two heavy readers in our house (Essie and me.)

        1. C.L. Dyck says:

          Yep. With five avid readers, we are a stack of dead trees around our house. I dunno, the whole idea of having my library encapsulated in a device that will short out if the kid drops it in water…just makes me paranoid.

          Thanks, Shamus and Heather, for the shout-out. You guys have done an awesome thing producing this book.

          1. Heather says:

            We keep plastic bags in the bathroom for ereaders and bath time. The free books from Amazon– all my old classic out of print favorites, have made the 2 kindles in the house well worth the money.

            1. Uscias says:

              That’s a great idea! I wonder why i never thought of such a simple way to enjoy my e-books while taking a bath xD

    3. mac says:

      Yeah, I spend ~£150/year on books, and that’s with my reading time severely restricted by having a small child.

    4. Kdansky says:

      For every Bioware game I skip, I read a decent book. You’d be amazed at how much better the plot and narrative of even a rather mediocre book is. I was actually reading Hamilton’s Space Opera Void trilogy just before I played Mass Effect 1. I was utterly disgusted at how bad ME’s story is in direct comparison.

      1. Sumanai says:

        One of the reasons why “they just wanted to tell a story” is not a valid defense for most railroading stories in games is that even if you accept that the story can’t be interactive, they’re so poorly written that you’re better of actually reading a book.

        When I watched the Extra Credits episode on narrative, and they went something like “when people complain about bad dialogue, they’re really talking about narrative” I thought to myself “no, I’m definitely complaining about the dialogue”. This was because I can accept that designers will have a hard time making games with good interactive narratives, after all it’s a relatively new thing, but there’s no excuse on making the dialogue as bad as it tends to be.

        Unless I’ve imagined the centuries of storytelling that, you know, have been happening.

    5. Zak McKracken says:

      Around here the percentage of electronic books in the market is below 5%, I think. Most of my colleagues have never seen one, or know what an E-reader is. And they’re Engineers.

    6. Shamus says:

      I get where this question is coming from. I read. A LOT. Hours a day. But the last time I read a book was… I can’t remember.

      Kind of easy for me to think, “Do people still read books? Like, physical ones?” Or, “Do people still watch TV?”

      But yeah. A lot do.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        I have never read a book that wasn’t on paper*, and I have only ever listened to two audiobooks.

        But I swapped TV for the Internet six years ago.
        But I listen to the radio often. Actual analog radio. Now who was TV supposed to kill fifty years ago?

        Note: That’ll make Shamus’ book the first one I’ll read on that shiny new e-reader… once I actually get around to getting a smashwords account and trusting my credit card data to paypal (which up to now I refuse to use, because they’re at least as bad as microsoft and adobe when it comes to monopolyzing a market). I guess you can’t ever make it really right in every aspect…

        Note note: At least I think SW uses paypal only? I got the impression from reading their FAQs.

        * except for Free Radical. I just realize… Thanks, Shamus, for getting me into the digital age :)

      2. Of course the fact that we have 10 boxes of physical books packed and sitting at your mom’s house, plus the 30 we got rid of would indicate that in your house people DO still read books, even if you tend to read the computer. ;P

        1. krellen says:

          I read mostly on the computer, but largely because things aren’t as readily available on paper any more. But paper is still my preference; you can’t read your computer in the bathroom!

          1. Khazidhea says:

            Some people still read books, a lot don’t. For myself I recently spent about $200 during the last BookDepository 10% off sale (as part of that I picked up a few Neal Stephenson books after reading some comments here).

          2. JPH says:

            You can read your computer in the bathroom if your computer is a laptop (mine is).

    7. JPH says:

      If reading books wasn’t still a common thing, kindles wouldn’t sell as well as they do.

    8. collar says:

      I would spend somewhere around $150 – 200 (Australian) on books a year, in the past I’ve spent more.

      Books are still widely read everywhere I look (petrol station attendant was reading Clash of Kings when I walked in to pay for my fuel today), you only have to look at the size of Book Depository and the success of the Kindle to see that people still value reading books in whatever format.

  20. Just Another Dave says:

    LaTeX evangelist here… I won’t try to claim that everything would be easy if you did it in LaTeX; in particular I think format conversions will be nontrivial no matter what source format you use (unless they are already implemented). I do think that you would have an easier time starting with a plain-text markup editor than Word, since all the formatting is visible and so easy to bend to your will; I haven’t used markdown, but the comments above make it sound like it could be a good choice. Because you want to convert to so many different formats, it probably makes sense to start with a format with as few features as possible, to simplify the conversion process. I don’t know enough about any e-book format except HTML/EPUB to know how hard that conversion is though.

    But I did want to comment (since you’ve complained about it a couple of times) that the built-in LaTeX \textbf{boldfacing} and \textit{italicizing} commands are not the only way to go. LaTeX is a full programming language; it’s intended to be extended to do what the user needs to do. In particular, if you want to redefine * and / within LaTeX so that *this is boldfaced (but *this* is not)* and /this is italicized (but not /this/)/ it’s actually not all that hard to make LaTeX behave that way. [Example code omitted but available on request.]

    LaTeX does have a steep learning curve, though. I don’t know how many .tex files I made by copying and pasting the \documentclass{…} stuff at the top before I understood what it meant. Just like #include, it was just a ritual incantation until I needed to understand it better.

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks for the info.

      The idea that I could do italics /like this/ is pretty attractive, and would cure my worst problems with the language.

      My thinking now is that I would write in word, simply for the handy spelling & grammar highlighting, but otherwise write a simple plain text document in some sort of markdown, latex, or whatever.

      And Heather just explained to me that the reliance on .doc formats isn’t just a Smashwords problem. They ALL do that. Amazon, B&N, iTunes, etc. They all accept doc. Only doc.

      This is an industry with dangerous stupidity issues.

      1. Vlad says:

        I’m not here to evangelize LaTeX, since I don’t see why you’d go to the trouble of learning it just to write a book (I find it very useful when writing scientific papers, where you need greek letters and equations and whatnot, otherwise it’s a non-negligible hassle), but the LaTeX editor I use (TeXmaker) has grammar highlighting as well; so I’ll suppose others have it too, although it may not be as advanced/thorough as the MS Word one.

      2. Dazdya says:

        I have found that most, if not all, industries are like that.

      3. Just Another Dave says:

        Below (if the format doesn’t get mangled) is a short LaTeX file demonstrating /italic/ and *bold* markup.



        % Short LaTeX file demonstrating *bold* and /italic/ markup.


        % bfon=1 for bold, 0 for normal
        % toggle between boldface and normal based on counter bfon

        % literal “*” is now \*; *…* is boldface

        % iton=1 for italics, 0 for normal
        % toggle between italics and normal based on counter iton

        % literal “/” is now \/; /…/ is italicized
        \catcode`\/=13 % this makes / an active character (single-char command)

        % set font (bold/italics/normal) based on current values of bfon, iton

        % now change all the bold/italic commands you want to use, to
        % update the counters as well


        % Using with other packages:
        % 1. The counters (bfon, iton) will become confused if you use the
        % /…/ or *…* forms within a section of text that’s already
        % bold/italicized without setting the counter, e.g. using \emph.
        % These commands should be redefined like \textbf, \textit above
        % to modify the counters.
        % 2. As written above these counters and effects are global: if
        % you use a single /italics here… at the end of a section
        % then the italics will continue to the next section. It would
        % be possible to localize these so that the fonts reset to
        % normal at the end of a paragraph, section, etc.
        % NB: This hasn’t been tested extensively.



        This is some \textbf{boldfaced—but *not* all of it—}text.

        I’m *very* glad Darth Vader isn’t my father.

        This is some *boldfaced* text. Here’s an asterisk: \*.

        This is some \textit{italicized, and /doubly/-italicized} text.

        Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your /father/? Slashdot: \/.


        Start /italics


        and we’re still italicized /here!/ So/ this is normal again.

        Normal /italic *bold italic/ bold* normal.


      4. chrisw10 says:

        I said this up above, but just in case you don’t see that one… I was able to upload my eBook “The Lightforce Rebellion” through Kindle Direct and Barnes & Noble in .mobi and .epub, respectively. They ask you on the upload page to choose a .doc file, but I think they just say “.doc” to make it easy for non-technical selfpubbers.

      5. Tizzy says:

        btw, this is something to point out to the LaTeX evangelists (a proud group to which I belong): it’s easy to be a latex evangelist when your industry will only accept latex submissions to begin with (e.g. every scientific journal I’ve ever dealt with).

        ON the other hand, I hope this gives you a sense of how nice latex can be: it’s so much more convenient even at the production lavel that many have stoppedaccepting anything else,

    2. Kdansky says:

      I was one of the people who suggested LaTeX, because honestly, I’ve never had an easier time getting complex page-layout working without issues. Word suffers horribly from small changes rippling through all your document and killing layout dozens of pages later, or the copy-paste issues you mention.

      As an example, I had to change a few things in the setup document for our software. Since this setup involves installing an SQL database, configuring a firewall and a few more things, that’s a 20 page document with non-trivial content. The original was (guess what) a .doc, and that made me rage every single time I did something as trivial as replace a few lines. So i rewrote the whole thing in LaTeX. All problems gone.

      But if you need to export it to a service which redoes the layout anyway (eReaders) and doesn’t take native LaTeX? Then don’t use LaTeX. LaTeX is a layouting engine, not a word processor.

      MS Word Doc is an utter abomination. I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to use it. But guess what every non-programmer at work uses? Word! For everything, and it’s all ugly.

      For myself, I use either .rtf if I except to print it at some point, TiddlyWiki if I want to make notes, or .txt for anything that does not need formatting (which is, let’s be honest, most content) and LaTeX if it actually needs to look decent.

  21. Factoid says:

    I know this might be a little late, but here’s a good trick for Microsoft Word.

    Instead of doing a Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V copy and paste, go up to the Edit menu (in 2003) or the Paste drop-down menu on the tool ribbon (2007 & 2010) and choose Paste Special.

    From the paste special menu you can choose to paste without any of the formatting info. I don’t know why they hide it so much in word, but it’s immensely useful. It’s a prominent feature in excel. it’s right there in the right click context menu. But you have to go digging for it in Word.

    That might help in the future when copying and pasting into a format-senstive document.

    1. Heather says:

      Not the least useful when dealing with ebooks because ebook formats ignore all such stuff. Also he writes in Word and I use Libreoffice for all work since I useUbuntu and abhor all things Microsoft.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        In that context: The “remove manual formatting” option in the context menu works wonders. That or marking the text and doubleclicking the standard style.

        1. I do make the whole thing set to default upon importing it. The real problem is Smashwords barfs on any text boxes and the other random crap that MS Words throws in there (as does WordPress which is why I fight with the writers I design websites for all the time to PLEASE stop copying and pasting from .docs. Sigh.) Thus the need to put it in .txt first, to clean it up and then set to default and add in. In the future though we plan to try html first so I can strip all the junk tags out that word throws in and then save as doc.

    2. TSi says:

      I’ll add that Word, like most applications, has a few shortcuts for those complex actions that would require a lot of clics and hassle.
      I recommend doing a little search on google when you don’t know where to go or what to do.
      For the Copy/Paste problem, i believe this might help :
      ctrl+space and ctrl+q on a selection to reset it completely. I’m not sure however if this removes the invisible residues problem but it’s a good start.

  22. Anachronist says:

    It occurs to me that one can always write stuff in HTML and then load it into Word and save it as a .doc file. Or, one can write it using the *bold* and _italics_ designations (asterisks and underlines), save as plaintext, rename to end in .rtf, and then import it into Word and the bold and italics should convert properly.

    I second Factoid’s comment above. I hate Microsoft’s default action to paste everything including the formatting. I always use Paste Special -> Unformatted text. Makes my life much easier. I only wish I could make that the default mapping for ctrl-V.

    1. Blake says:

      Yeah I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to paste something with formatting. To me that seems like the special case and ‘put these words here’ is the general case.

    2. TSi says:

      Awesome !
      I’m going to read more about the rtf specs, it might come in handy.

      Also, you can add a keyboard shortcut to that by going to ‘tools’->’Personalize’ -> ‘…keyboard’ button
      I’m using a french version of wordXP so it might/should be different for you. In any case, check for more info.
      click next twice to get to the point.

  23. Jan says:

    I never ever would write a long text in Word.
    For my job (admittedly, I’m a mathematician, so it’s kind of a given), I use LaTeX.
    For my amateur magazine editing (local youth astronomy club), I used Adobe Indesign. Might be overkill for a fiction book, but at my girlfriend’s work (educational publisher) they use it too. The new version (CS5) supposedly even has some extra plugins to output to ebook formats even.

    1. Heather says:

      They recommend Adobe Indesign for print but you can’t use it for ebook formats.

      1. Kdansky says:

        Indesign is a great piece of software, actually. It’s also far from cheap at 1000 USD for current Adobe package. My wife spends most of her work hours using it, freelance work. So if you ever feel like paying a professional for doing it, you have my e-mail.

        1. Heather says:

          I avoid all Adobe and Microsoft products as much as physically possible (I use only opensource and small indie developers products). And $1000 for a software package is not in the budget– in fact that is more than we have ever paid for a computer let alone a software package. (I don’t charge enough for any of my freelance work to pay for that in a year let alone make it worth while.)

          We have indie publisher friends who would happily take on Shamus’ projects and chose to do this is ourselves because the profit margin in the book industry is such that even doing this we are barely scraping by.

          1. Kdansky says:

            Neither Adobe nor Microsoft deserve all the scorn they get on a regular basis. Both companies produce good and bad things. Hating them “just because” is childish at best, and self-destructive at worst, when you miss out on great things. I curse every time I have to fix a webpage for IE-6/7/8 or run into DLL-Hell issues, but I (nearly) forgive Microsoft when I use the VS debugger which is a bit like Magic.

            I can completely understand that 1000$ puts the package out of reach for hobbyists (and it’s the most expensive software package I ever bought by nearly an order of magnitude), but when you work with it full-time, having the best tools that exist will make a vast difference in how productive and motivated you are. I really would not want to spend my days bothering with Notepad to write my code, and neither would I ask that of someone doing layout work for magazines or newspapers.

            It’s also noteworthy that spending money on software or hardware that improves your productivity pays off immensely: If you buy software for 1000$ which allows you to work 5% faster, you have essentially traded 1000$ for about 80 hours extra work completed per year (at 8 hours on 200 days a year). That’s 12.50$ per hour, which is WAY cheaper than paying 80 hours of overtime for any job with non-trivial qualifications. And this is about the most conservative example you can find.
            If the software is 200$, and you gain 100% productivity (last year’s Photoshop vs Paint), and you actually have to factor in health care, insurance and office rent, software and hardware become exceptionally good investments.

            I want to point to Joel Spolsky’s great list and point 9.

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              I was using a “borrowed” copy of adobe photoshop, untl I read an editorial about the actual problems this causes: The small companies who make small affordable software lose out because everyone just gets a copy of word and one of PS for free if they like to. This is how MS and Adobe became the monopolists they are today. And now they can go and charge whatever they want because it’s _the_ software for the respective task.

              Now I’m on gimp and Libreoffice (and mostly Linux, too). Photoshop does have more features than gimp, but those are actually not so important for my occasional use that I’d go and actually buy the software. I can see why it makes sense in a professional environment, but I don’t get paid for my spare time, so that’s a completely different affair.

              1. Exactly. I don’t make enough or work often enough for the type of work I do to be worth that much financial output. If I were working full time in an office and charging full price then possibly, but I am not and I don’t. I charge what it is worth to me to charge and refuse to charge more just because the market says so– I know how little time it takes me to do a job and charge accordingly plus some for my know-how. I actually love Gimp for the work I do– webdesign, book cover design, and cleaning up paintings for digital format. Libreoffice works very well for what I need as a word processor– which I avoid using unless I am editing/proofreading/formatting and for the few times a year I need it for that it is enough. I prefer opensource or small company software to big name conglomerates mostly because they treat their users like idiots and I prefer to customize to my hearts content. :)

              2. Kdansky says:

                You are right on all points! This machine runs Gimp too, VS Express and a free version of the Flex SDK. I was talking about professional use (and if it doesn’t pay the bills, it’s not a profession, but a hobby).

            2. Darkness says:

              Well, nice thoughts overall but the experience of the rest of us is wildly different from you.

              Adobe is horribly expensive unless The Company is providing it which means Your Work is now owned by The Company. So, no Adobe for me. Also, Flash is the worst individual application on any personnel computer. It has always sucked more power/cpu/cycles/gpu/anything else you can name.

              MS is a convicted monopolist. They have a plethora of bad software at inflated prices that invite others to attack your system through holes in their proprietary software that is *secret* and special and mediocre.

              MS consistently decides to play in markets they are lousy at. But they steal, cheat, evade, violate and whatever else it takes to crush anyone else out of that specific market. The mind numbing arrogance that says they HAD to have a game console that has cost the company $8 Billion in losses. It is finally profitable because they moved some of the cost of the division somewhere else. Who knows if it is actually making money?

              A reasonable citizen of the world would use almost anything else to keep out of that cycle of embrace, enhance, extinguish.

  24. Thomas says:

    Have I left this here before? If I haven’t, it’s a series on publishing from one of my favorite authors.

    1. Kdansky says:

      I sent him that link years ago :P

  25. Jeff says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with “the name of the chapter alone on a left-hand page, and the the text beginning about a third of the way down on the right-hand page” for chapter breaks.

    I literally just flipped through PTerry’s I Shall Wear Midnight , Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice, and my copy of The Lord Of The Rings, and they all just have the chapter name (even if it’s just “Chapter Two”) at the top of a new page, and the text a few lines below.

    1. Heather says:

      I think he actually meant having the section/book heading on the right then having a blank or an image and the chapter starting part of the way down on the right. Please keep in mind that Shamus does not actually take care of that aspect and was giving an exaggerated example in order to prove the point.

  26. Jamas Enright says:

    You know what I’m hearing? (Well, reading.) That there’s a space for a business to take an author’s manuscript in some format and produce it in other formats for the various sites to take.

    (There are a lot of authors without spouses to do the work for them, so… ka-ching!)

    1. There are actually quite a few companies that will do it– most charge $100 to $200. Smashwords even has people who will prepare it for Smashwords for $50. In our case, well we prefer to do it ourselves (or at least I prefer to do everything I can for myself to paying someone else to do something when I know I can figure it out eventually.) That applies to everything. Why yes, I DO make my own food from scratch which I DO get from the farm. ;P And when we have the spare income to pay someone to do something instead I will hire someone to mow the lawn.

  27. Zak McKracken says:

    “I'll often find blank lines or single spaces in my document where, if I enter some text in the dead space, it will begin typing in some unexpected font face and size.[…] Heather had to copy the entire book as raw text ““ thus removing all formatting ““ and then paste it into a fresh, clean document”

    Hmm… haven’t used word in a while, but if you’re using Libreoffice with templates you can mark any suspicious space, rightclick and “remove manual formatting” and all’s returned to what the format template says it should be. From then on it’s just a question of assigning proper templates — and withstanding the temptation to just click in “italics” next time, but instead assign the “emphasized” text template. Goodbye manual formatting. Chapters, references, footnotes, indentations … blaa … this should never need to be touched directly in the editor but only ever via (object, paragraph, text… templates).
    Since OpenOffice has had this since version 1.0, I’m pretty sure that MS word has the same functionality. It took me a while to learn to use this properly, but it has saved me weeks of my life, I’m sure.

    Now, it may be you know all this already and it just didn’t work as advertised, but based on the number of people I know who work with MS word and still format every little thing by hand, there must be at least someone here who didn’t know this.

  28. Jay says:

    You might want to consider advertising. I don’t think a banner ad costs very much on many sites, and it could drive sales that kick you up the sales rankings and drive more sales. The Escapist is an obvious place, since some of their readers know about you already. Some decently-trafficed fantasy webcomics might also work. You probably don’t want to spend much money per ad (maybe $20), but an ad buy could pay for itself pretty quickly.

    It’s probably best to link it to the sample excerpt, with links to the Amazon page before and after the excerpt.

    Best of luck.

  29. River says:

    I enjoyed the pictures

  30. cadrys says:

    Hmm, I smell a “niche” industry that needs a handy accepts-your-preferred-format converter to the various types, and a “one big button” to punch out “clean” versions of what the various e-publishers prefer. Simple matter of programming! :)

    1. Ingvar M says:

      Yes, it is indeed a “simple” matter of programming (step #1, design a universal “represent a document” format, step #2, design readers for N formats to internal, step #3, design writers for M formats).

      Then there’s the horror of “make them usable by everyone else”. :)

  31. samalander says:

    not sure if you’ve had a chance to check them out, but Dean Wesley Smith ( ) and Kristine Kathryn Rusch ( ) are a couple of really great resources too :)

  32. Nick says:

    Shamus, try yWriter, it was developed by a writer and exports to many formats:

  33. Soylent Dave says:

    After you finish your book, the work will sit around for a year or more making no money at all, giving you no return on investment. Then if you're lucky it will earn money for a limited time, of which you will get a small percent

    That’s not quite how traditional publishing works, Shamus.

    The publisher pays you a large (for some definition of ‘large’) amount of money up front, based off how well they expect your book to sell.

    This is called an ‘advance’, because it’s an advance against your royalty payments – so you won’t get any royalty cheques until your advance is paid for (but the publisher won’t ask for the advance back if they overestimated sales and you never sell enough copies to pay for the advance).

    Published authors generally treat the advances as wages and royalties as a nice bonus that comes in long after you’ve stopped thinking about that book (if at all)

    1. Tizzy says:

      The reprint argument seems to hold pretty well though: Dave Sim of Cerebus fame and tireless advocate of self-publisjhing, always liked to point out that at any time, most of his income came from his older books that he had reprinted repeatedly, something that would be harder to secure if he’d worked with a publisher. (As a matter of fact, Sim argues that reprinting would go against the publisher’s self-interest, but that’s more open to discussion and not essential to his main point anyway.)

      The fact that many of his readers lost interest halfway through the series should not in any way detract from the fact that he makes a good point. If anything, it rather strengthens his point.

  34. Glenn says:

    Small update: I’ve broken the Createspace deadlock. Proofs on the way!

  35. Some Random Dood says:

    Quick check – anyone know how to get the book (physical version!) in the UK please? Still checking and not getting any joy.

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