I've been asked a couple of times lately how the Markhat series revival is going.
Good news: the new covers are nearly done! And of course, once they're done, all that remains is the conversion of the Word documents into the various commercial formats -- epub, mobi, and the one for the Apple bookstore whose name I can never recall.
That sounds simple. So does climbing Everest, after all, you just keep going uphill until there's no more up and no more hill, right?
As usual, I'm here to help, by clarifying the whole ebook creation process.
If you've ever Googled 'how do I create an ebook' or 'how do I quickly dissolve a corpse,' you probably found dozens if not hundreds of books with titles such as 'Create Your Own Ebook in Three Easy Steps, Before Supper, With no Errors and Also Gain Perfect Teeth and a Desirable Body Shape.'
I've read a lot of these books. They're all eager and helpful, in a Boy Scout way, full of earnest advice and simple, straightforward, step-by-step instructions.
They are also deceptively slippery pavers on the spiraling path down toward madness.
It ought to be simple. It really ought to be. Microsoft Word is a known actor, right? It's designed to lend itself toward easy conversion into Kindle format, among others. And the how-to books, and the conversion software, truly are written to help you move from manuscript to ebook.
But I am here, with a carefully-concealed bald spot and a seething inner rage, to tell you there is NO easy way to do this, and errors are going to creep in and turn your shiny new ebook into a festering mass of amateurish drivel the moment you hit publish.
Okay. Maybe not for YOU, since you're an intelligent person, a methodical person, a person of fine wit and no small skill with the key-mice and the compute-ors and the Interwebs.
I, on the other hand, am a magnet for inexplicable disasters and one-in-a-million software conflicts that bubble up out of the quantum foam just long enough to twirl their little Snidely Whiplash mustaches and mutter 'Let's see you figure THIS one out, wee man.'
Word dumps a lot of invisible codes into even simple documents. You can try to strip them out. You can make a heroic effort to leave nothing but text and the most primal, basic formatting instructions. You can clap your hands like a seal and gnaw on raw halibut for all the good your work will do in the end, because -- and I have seen this happen -- the final ebook will look great until someone buys it.
Then you'll find out the hard way that everything after the first comma on page 16 is rendered in all-caps Greek, the page margins are now four inches wide on both sides, and any attempt to turn the page redirects the Kindle user to a website in Ukraine devoted to a certain, er, unseemly interest in goats wearing Nixon masks.
Okay. Could just be me. But that's my luck.
So here's Frank's Handy Guide to Creating Your Own Ebook:
1) While creating the manuscript, don't use the tab key. Ever. Seriously, burn that key off with a small propane torch. When you start the document, go into your paragraph settings and define everything there. No tab keys. Ever.
2) Don't EVER swap between versions of Word. I once wrote a novel in alternating sessions on my laptop and my desktop, saving and swapping as I went. Word is compatible with Word, right? So what if I was using Word 2010 on one machine and Word 2013 on the other? Well, don't do that. There was stuff buried in that manuscript -- even in text versions of it -- that drove two programmers and a seasoned publishing-industry format pro to the brink of insanity. Get a subscription to Microsoft Office 360. You can load Word on 5 computers. Those docs will hand off flawlessly, and you can save everything on the cloud.
3) When everything is done, when the last edit pass is complete, when you are well and truly ready to convert to ebook format, make sure you are stocked up on hard liquor, Prozac, hand grenades, and money. Take a deep breath. Also take a moment to reflect on the choices that lead you to this grim juncture. Too late now, though, and anyway you know you'd have been a lousy investment banker.
4) This is the crucial step, the real kicker. Look that Word document right in the eye (yes this is metaphorical, but if your document does appear to have eyes, maybe lay off the Old Overcoat, hmm?). Lock eyes with Word, say aloud "I am the boss of you,' and then for the love of all that is holy hire someone to convert the thing. That's right. Sometimes the best way to win a game is not to play. Steal the silverware on your way out.
5) Don't hire just anyone. The Web is awash with 'ebook format specialists.' Many are legitimate and competent. Many will simply run your document through the same conversion stuff you can get yourself, usually for free, and declare the process complete. Um. Maybe so, maybe not. Be sure you check out a few titles they've converted before you start throwing money around. If they're not willing to divulge any titles, move on.
Now, I know people who do a marvelous job of doing their own conversions. I'm not one of those people. I'll be using the folks at ADSmith, because I've worked with them on the covers, and they know the ins and outs of the pernicious little buggers that lay in wait between Word format and an ebook.
Speaking of covers, I promised you one, and here it is. This is the new one for BROWN RIVER QUEEN, and it's a Darla cover, and I hope you love it as much as I do.
I love it! It'll be on sale soon. Although, and hear me well, gentle reader -- if you already own the Markhat titles, you don't need to go out and buy the new ones. At least until THE DEVIL'S HORN hits, and that won't be for a while yet.
Until next week, stay safe out there, folks.