followup on Smashwords & the publishing industry

Another of my books, Lost and Not Found, is now available through Smashwords – so you can download and read it directly on your iPhone or iPod Touch through Stanza.  In addition, I’ve updated the kindle version of the book – there was something strange going on with the left margin in the one that was available before, but it should be corrected now.  (Sorry about that.)

I had some difficulties with Smashwords over the weekend – I kept trying to upload my book and it kept timing out or getting stuck or something.  I was time consuming to deal with, because it would often freeze up on an actively loading page that said it was working and not to refresh.  So I would wait what I was sure was long enough before interrupting it.  I thought it was possibly on my end, to before I even contacted Smashwords for help (they have a link at the top of every page that allows you to contact them with any questions, comments, or problems) I tried uploading through 4 different browsers on 2 operating systems, tried deleting cookies, checking over my code…

I did, eventually, contact Smashwords to ask for help.  And immediately had a response.  From the founder, Mark Coker (who I had several interesting conversations with at Tools of Change, last month).  We emailed back and forth and he went way above and beyond (especially considering this was taking place on the weekend – the bulk of the back and forth taking place on a Saturday night!) to try to figure out why my book wasn’t going through the meatgrinder.  Eventually, looking at the HTML I was feeding it, he ran it through the W3C validator and discovered that I had some errors.  Okay, that’s my fault.  (Then we each went out for the evening – neither of us is staying in all night on a Saturday night fiddling with eBook conversions!)

Turns out that when I had initially exported from Adobe’s software to HTML, it had both put in the incorrect doctype and had failed to close the head tag.  WTF, Adobe?  I fixed that & still had trouble, but Mark was there trying to help along the way.  Sunday I didn’t work on it, and since he hadn’t heard from me and we hadn’t had it resolved yet, he even followed up with me this morning.  (Right after I’d got everything working, actually.)  The meatgrinder doesn’t seem to like big HTML files (it works best with Word .doc files, I’m told), but Smashwords has amazing/fantastic/excellent/astounding customer service and a real dedication to helping authors/publishers and to creating a tool that works.  They’ve earned a lot of loyalty from me by actually caring about doing a good job and supporting the authors they’re trying to provide a service to.

Now, how did I get it working?  I just used TextEdit (on OS X, where I do most of my work) to save the HTML file as an .rtf, adjusted font sizes a bit (TextEdit seems to make everything a couple of sizes bigger), and Smashwords’ meatgrinder worked great.  So if you’re thinking of uploading your books to Smashwords, first look at their style guide, but then try to upload a .doc or .rtf file.  It should give you awesome output.

Which brings me around to the other subject I wanted to address: Why does the publishing industry use Microsoft Word as the de-facto standard for writing/editing/et cetera?  Word isn’t good at handling book-length manuscripts.  It isn’t good at multi-user editing, tracking changes, and the like.  It isn’t good at layout.  I’m not sure what it’s good at.  I’ve used the Windows versions and the Mac versions, and I even wrote a book in it once. Ugh.  It’s terribly unstable when you have a document of book length. How does the publishing industry function?  As soon as I had Apple’s Pages available, I imported from my Word .doc (cleaned up the formatting) and the stability, speed, ease of editing and layout was instantly orders of magnitude better.  Pages wasn’t really designed for book-length documents, either -its strength is the brochure and the full-color newsletter with lots of pictures and complicated layouts, not the block of text that is a novel- but at least it handles them well.  After the first version, Pages refused to output text in CMYK, which is a bizarre sort of a problem that means it isn’t of much use if you’re outputting for a professional printer, but for the couple of books I wrote in it, it was oh-so-easy.  And stable.  Never crashed, never froze, didn’t get slower the more I wrote.  Nice.

Of course, since I do have to do professional layouts and put out files my printer can use, I started using InDesign for layout… and then, for my last book, I just wrote the first draft directly into an InDesign template.  I was able to make layout decisions as I was writing the book, so that – when the first draft was done, so was 90% of the layout work.  Editing in InDesign (for the one person that I am) is simple enough -easier than Word, though not as smooth (yet) as Pages- and I can immediately see how my changes will look when printed.  I don’t know for sure what layout software is ‘industry standard’ -though anecdotally I have an impression that InDesign is fairly widespread in use- but I’m sure it isn’t MS Word.  So why do they do everything else in Word?  Why are all the tools designed assuming that I’m going to work in Word, Smashwords & kindle included?  Word is terrible at this sort of work.

For writing, I’d rather use something like Scrivener or even just WriteRoom.  For layout, obviously I’d use a professional layout software (which Pages does well enough – too bad about the CMYK).  Why Word?

I think it’s the ongoing acceptance of standards like the industry-wide use of MS Word that are indicative of why old-school, big publishers are going out of business.  They aren’t thinking clearly about what would be the best way to do what they’re doing, they just keep doing it the same way they’ve been doing it.  If you aren’t looking forward, if you aren’t concerned with whether you’re using the best tools for the job, you’re going to face stiff competition from those of us who are.

For now, I can give Smashwords the .rtf files it likes.  No problem.  But XML is the future (and, yes, the publishing industry is trying to figure out how to integrate XML into its MS Word-based workflows.  Seriously.), the open epub standard is the future, and I talked to Mark about it at ToC and hopefully, eventually, the meatgrinder will be able to take the soon-to-be-worldwide-standard epub format and grind it out into all the old, dying, proprietary formats.  And hopefully someone will create an easy to use tool for originating documents in XML – that doesn’t involve plugging something into MS Word.

Doing everything by myself

I remarked earlier, on Twitter, something about how I can’t get myself to stop working. Yesterday -and I say yesterday, not because it was different from other days, but because I noticed it and did the math- I worked an 18 hour day. I got up, ate breakfast, sat in front of my computer, and without doing it intentionally and without realizing it until I was over 16 hours in, I worked almost continuously, only stopping for food & bathroom breaks and the occasional human interruption. I had actually intended to relax that day. To take some time to play games or just watch TV and/or movies. Something. Alas, I’m in the midst of getting two books ready to send to my printer, and I’m completely occupied. I can’t seem to stop working.

One of the pitfalls of doing what you love full time is, apparently, not being able to get yourself to stop doing it. This entire week, while difficult and frustrating at times and almost always leaving me feeling unsure as to whether the product I’m producing will be marketable, has been enjoyable. I’ve been having a good time. A few hours ago, after I’d added the two new books (Forget What You Can’t Remember and More Lost Memories) to, after tweaking things around so everything displayed okay across 6 different browsers, when I spent over an hour simply rearranging the book cover thumbnails on the main page, I was having a good time. It was fun to play around with laying them out, spacing them out, and otherwise shifting the tiny images around in dozens of different configurations.

So, that’s good.

But then again, there are factors like: It’s already December 21st, I haven’t submitted either book to my printer yet -actually, I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of people who said they’d copyedit for me, though probably not for much longer- and I haven’t finished composing the music for the podcast version of the novel and with Christmas and New Year’s Day I can’t expect particularly rapid turn-arounds on the book production and the podcast launches January 1st on the Modern Evil Podcast (and January 2nd on and it sure would be nice to have the physical book available when the podcast goes live, but I don’t see things coming together that quickly, at this point. Wait, did that sentence make any sense?

I wanted to have the books to LSI (who prints & distributes them) ASAP, preferably in time to have them on hand before the podcast goes live (and before the Art Walk, Jan. 2nd). I wanted to have them done and ready to go a week ago. Monday of this week at the latest. But I have to do everything by myself. I’m a one-man operation. I write the books. I edit the books. I copy-edit the books. I do the layout. I design the covers. I take the photographs (or, in the case of More Lost Memories, paint the paintings) for the covers. I write the copy. I design and build the web sites. I do the accounting. I handle the “e-commerce”. I do the marketing. Everything. I do everything myself. So, it takes a little longer than I’d like. So, I probably won’t have the books on hand Jan. 2nd. Perhaps not even the proof copies back to be sure everything was set up okay.

Which, if I were trying to do things traditionally, wouldn’t be as much of a problem. A traditional publisher takes 9 months to two years to get a book on store shelves. I finished FWYCR at the end of October and I wrote More Lost Memories in November and I’m trying to have them in print and ready to sell by the end of December. Well, by “January, 2009” right now. If I’d given myself until January 2010 it would have been no problem to get all this done. Heck, I could already have the audiobook in the can. Waiting for people to find the time to actually read the book and give me feedback wouldn’t be an issue. All that. But I’m not trying to copy what’s out there. I’m trying to run the publishing company I want to be. I want to go from first draft to book for sale in as short a time as I am capable of producing a professional product. I want to have several new books every year. This year, 2008, Modern Evil Press didn’t put a single new book in print. Next year, I’m starting with two in January and I have another short story collection about 2/3 finished, and unless the course of my life changes significantly, I should be able to get another novel (or two) written before the end of the year. I want to be the one-man operation that doesn’t hold itself back because of its limitations.

My only limitation is time. There’s only one of me. And I have to do everything. But it’s coming along. And it feels good. Hopefully I’ll be able to send these two books to the printer before Christmas. Then, with any luck, I can get some painting done in the midst of trying to launch yet another podcast novel. Alright, gotta go slice my fresh-baked cranberry bread now, then get ready for church. Thanks for reading.

A lot of podcasting

You’ve been reading a lot about it here because it’s been dominating my time and my thoughts a lot lately. In case you somehow aren’t aware, I’ve been podcasting my fiction and poetry via the Modern Evil Podcast, and simultaneously releasing my podcast novels over at in sync with my personal feed. My feed (the Modern Evil Podcast) has also included (in addition to the weekly, half-hour episodes roughly identical to the Podiobooks release) poetry and short fiction in mid-week episodes.

What this means, for my time, is that I have effectively been running three weekly podcasts: The podiobooks feed, with just the novel, the Modern Evil Podcast Friday episodes, with the novel and alternate introduction and closing, and the Modern Evil Podcast mid-week episodes, with my poetry and short fiction. ~2.2x the recording and editing, 3x the mixing, converting, and uploading vs. doing one weekly podcast. It’s been a lot of work, and time and thought consuming.

So, along with the upcoming release of my new book, Forget What You Can’t Remember (now targeting a January release), I’m going to be starting podcasting it. In fact, I’m planning to overlap the two novels’ releases, so that people who listen to the final episode of Lost and Not Found on Podiobooks can immediately go subscribe to Forget What You Can’t Remember and so that people who subscribe to the Modern Evil Podcast will -instead of going for a while without episodes- get an extra episode or two during the overlap. Now, here’s the lazy part:

I’m going to continue releasing on the MEPodcast at the same time as Podiobooks, but Forget What You Can’t Remember is already broken into chapters of roughly even length, each of which should be around 15 minutes long. I’m going to release one chapter at a time, twice a week, into each feed. No poetry or short stories in the MEPodcast during the run, just chapter after chapter of the novel. Also: because of the structure of Forget What You Can’t Remember, the majority of chapters have no “breaks” in them, and thus will have a somewhat reduced editing time and effort – a savings then multiplied by the double feeds.

The Forget What You Can’t Remember podcast should wrap up around mid-April, 2009, according to this release schedule. Hopefully by then I’ll have another book or two written.

Getting easier, getting better

Podcasting is getting easier, the more I do it. I’m either getting more confident, or more sloppy, the more hours of audio I record and put online. Today I put together this week’s episode faster than ever, partially because there was less editing required. The mid-week episode wasn’t so bad, either, and for a similar reason. That, I think, has something to do with another thing I think I’m getting better at: writing.

It isn’t necessarily going faster, or easier, during the actual writing. But especially as I’ve been deep in the midst of writing a spinoff novel to Lost and Not Found and my immediate flow into a spinoff of that while recording the audio version of Lost and Not Found, I’ve been able to see how my writing has changed. Or, at the least, to see how much my writing could be improved from what was in Lost and Not Found. Hopefully by seeing that I’m able to steer away from it in my new writing. Even just little things like maintaining tense consistently, or using the same version of a word throughout a book (ie: either the British or the American version, but not switching back and forth between the two), which I thought I’d corrected in the Second Edition of Lost and Not Found, are very frustrating. I don’t know how much time I want to keep sinking into that book, but it isn’t up to my current standards.

I’m writing something very strange, right now. I’m not sure anyone will understand it. I’m not sure what to do with it, this collection of stories. The strangeness, the expected failure to understand, are iterative. I see them in individual sentences & paragraphs, in each story, and in the collection as a whole. I’m not sure it’ll be book length when it’s complete. Maybe, but book length feels very far away, right now, and my list of stories yet to be written for it feels like it’s dwindling. Perhaps I will write a series of stories even further removed from Forget What You Can’t Remember, which are spinoffs of these spinoff stories and which show the stories of characters who are incidental to the stories of the incidental characters in that novel. I already have one in mind, actually. If it’s just the one, I’ll pretend it’s relevant. If I can come up with more, perhaps I’ll divide More Lost Memories into chunks.

I discovered in the last few days that NaNoWriMo doesn’t really matter to me, any more. Not in a giving up way, not in an apathetic way, but in the following way: This is my job. It doesn’t matter whether I hit your word count goal, as long as I reach a length that I, as the publisher, feel is ‘book length’. It doesn’t matter whether I hit your time goal, because if I finish early then great, get to work on writing the next thing sooner and if I don’t finish on time I still have to keep writing. This is my job. This is what I do. I write. I make publishing decisions. When one book is done, I work on another (I’ve got at least four books either partially written or entirely written and partially edited right now, with at least a couple more ready to be worked on, and an endless supply of imagination) and when that’s done this will still be my job. So it doesn’t matter. Not practically. Although: we did buy Little Big Planet as NaNo-bait, and we aren’t allowed to open it until both Mandy and I finish our books. So, there’s that.

Alright. It’s 5AM. This isn’t an early post, it’s a late one. Been up all night. Barely written anything. Even more fun, I need to be up on Saturday, during the day, for North Valley Art Walk, followed by an Iron-Chef-type battle (Pumpkin), followed by the NaNoWriMo all-nighter, followed by church, then probably the Scottsdale Art Fair, and then my Nephews’ birthday party. No, seriously, if I don’t get to bed on time tomorrow night I’ll be running from early Saturday morning until late Sunday evening on almost no sleep at all. Because my life is awesome. Time for bed. Whenever it is I get up, I’ll record an intro for the Modern Evil Podcast, mix the episode, and get it online, ASAP. I’m going to aim for …9AM? Someone call me at 9AM.


I’ve just been poking around my sites’ statistics, and this blog’s archives, and caught another glimpse of how tragically broken my archives are. Broken links, incomplete posts, lost of inbound links that link to … things that aren’t there any more since I switched from MovableType to WordPress, and it’s no wonder that traffic to the site dropped something like 66% when I switched and has yet to recover. Tragic.

In other news, I stayed up all night last night. Some time after 2AM, when the house had been quiet for over an hour, I managed to start writing, working on my NaNoWriMo thing. I wrote until 5:30AM, when Heath walked back in (he delivers newspapers), adding roughly 2500 words to my word count. Which is pretty wonderful. I think that’s better than almost every other day I’ve been writing. Wonderful.

According to all those widgets I put in the last post, my daily goal for the rest of the month is apparently higher than 2500 words, so that puts a little perspective on it, a little tragedy, but I expect to be able to write more tonight, between the write in and the I-just-slept-all-day-and-expect-to-be-up-again-all-night, so hopefully I’ll have an even more wonderful word count tomorrow.

In other news, I still don’t hate the theme I chose, so that’s good. Perhaps not quite wonderful, but far from tragic. Alright. Now: grocery shopping. Later: more writing.