Kindle Formatting Magic

WORD TO KINDLE FORMATTING MAGIC

I will share some Kindle formatting tips and also introduce my newest book, Word to Kindle Formatting Magic, which is available in both paperback and Kindle editions.

  • Kindle ASIN: B07BL5K6DH
  • 522-page Paperback ISBN: 978194169122

KINDLE DESIGN

The beginning of Kindle design comes from understanding the semi-reflowable nature of eBooks. A typical eBook isn’t quite reflowable in the same way that a scrollable webpage displays (although the Look Inside feature displays that way), but it also doesn’t have a predictable fixed layout like a print book.

Since different customers will read the eBook on a variety of screen sizes and aspect ratios, from cell phones to HD tablets, and since the customer can adjust the type face, font size, background color, and internal margins, you can’t predict which information or how much information will show on any given screen.

The main idea is that a typical eBook doesn’t consist of well-defined pages like a print book does.

This impacts the design of Kindle eBooks in various ways. For example,

  • You need to choose the size and aspect ratio of your pictures wisely so that they look fine on any size screen. You also need to make sure that they look fine on white, black, cream, or green reading backgrounds.
  • A blank line could seem to vanish, since there is always a chance that it will show up at the very top or bottom of the screen.
  • Tall figures may be forced onto the next screen and may leave a lot of white space on the previous screen.
  • Subheadings may happen to fall at the bottom of a screen, unless you apply a page break to them, but a page break may waste a lot of white space on the prior screen.
  • Page numbers don’t make any sense in your eBook. Anywhere your text says something like, “as shown on pages 23-28,” you need to rewrite it.

Another important element of Kindle design is to understand the limitations of what Kindle can and can’t do, especially on older devices, including the limitations of the online and downloadable previewers (for example, in displaying tables, pictures, and special symbols). Following are some examples.

  • Use of the tab key to attempt to control paragraph indentations can be a disaster. The best way to control paragraph indentations is by applying clean paragraph styles (or style definitions) without direct paragraph formatting.
  • Some devices may automatically indent paragraphs that you wish to be non-indented. You have to trick the device into not indenting justified or left-aligned paragraphs.
  • Left alignment may automatically appear justified full unless you go a step beyond Microsoft Word.
  • Kindle’s justification isn’t perfect, although it has improved tremendously with Amazon’s new Enhanced Typesetting. If you try to prevent a runt (or orphan)—a short word at the end of a paragraph appearing on the last line all by its lonesome—with a non-breaking space, if the string of text has more than about 6 characters, you could wind up with an undesirable automatic hyphen or a large gap at the end of the previous line.
  • Bullet points come with a variety of limitations. The bullet symbol itself appears subdued. Negative indents, hanging indents, and multi-level indents pose problems, especially for older devices. Word’s automatic list tools automatically result in a large indent, and if you try to change Word’s indent size, the list looks worse in other ways. Even the simple ordered and unordered list tools with basic HTML have problems. To top this off, lists exaggerate the justification issues.
  • If you know how to avoid widows and orphans in your print book, you need to exercise self-discipline to avoid trying to control them in your Kindle eBook, and accept the fact that occasionally there may be just a few words on the last page of a chapter all by themselves.

Related to this is a degree of quirkiness, meaning that some features (like tables or special symbols) display differently on first or second generation Kindle Fires and older Kindle eReaders than they do on the most recent generation of Kindle devices.

For example, suppose that you wish to incorporate a page break into the paragraph style for the first row of a basic table, in order to prevent the table from starting near the very bottom of a screen (which would otherwise sometimes happen depending on the screen size and customer settings). On first and second generation Kindle Fires, this may result in ghosting, where you see the outline of the table on the screen prior to the table, and on at least one of the early Kindle Fire devices the table itself may appear to get stuck, taking a dozen swipes to advance past the table. It will appear to work fine in the previewer, though (but the previewers don’t display tables accurately for how they will work on all possible devices).

As another example, the most recent Kindle devices and the previewers will show more special symbols than older devices actually support.

A FEW FORMATTING TIPS

Following are a few tips that help to format a Kindle eBook.

  • Use paragraph styles in Word (or call style definitions in HTML) for all paragraph formatting. Do this religiously.
  • Don’t apply direct formatting to an entire paragraph (or more). If you want formatting to apply to an entire paragraph, create a new style for that.
  • A common mistake where direct formatting is applied is to highlight multiple paragraphs and change the settings, or to change the settings on the Paragraph or Font menu in Word and proceed to type one or more paragraphs.
  • Don’t use the tab key in your eBook. Too late? Use the Replace tool to remove every instance of ^t.
  • Avoid blank lines. Use Spacing After with an appropriate paragraph style in places where you need to add vertical space.
  • Keep it simple. If you try to do something complex, it may backfire on one or more devices or apps. You’d hate for part of your book to be totally unreadable on an older device, or for an indent to be huge on a small screen, for example.
  • Be careful not to introduce a worse problem by trying to fix a subtle design issue. Again, keeping it simple is a good Kindle philosophy.
  • When the content of your book is 100% complete (proofreading too), save your Word file as a filtered webpage. If your book includes any pictures, right-click on the resulting HTML file and send it to a compressed zipped folder. Find the image files folder that this process makes and drag it into the compressed zipped folder.
  • You can make some subtle improvements to your HTML file. For example, you can set text-indent to 0 instead of 0.01″ for non-indented paragraphs (but don’t remove the text-indent line or the paragraph may automatically indent). For indented paragraphs, you can change the text-indent to 2em or 3em so that it matches the font size. (Keep your indents small. Word’s default value of 0.5″ is larger than most traditionally published books and would look very large on small screens.)
  • If you know what to look for, the HTML file can help you see formatting that is hidden in Word. (Are you thinking about the Show/Hide button? I’m talking about formatting that’s so hidden that even Word’s Show/Hide button doesn’t reveal it.)

THE STORY BEHIND MY NEW BOOK

My other self-publishing books primarily focus on how to self-publish a paperback book. Although they do mention eBook formatting, the eBook is only a small component of those books.

I wanted to create a guide specifically for Kindle formatting.

When I was thinking about the title, it occurred to me that the behavior of Kindle eBooks as perceived by a new author sometimes seems mysterious (“Why did that happen?”), so I came up with the title, Kindle Formatting Magic. I added two words to make it Word to Kindle Formatting Magic because most authors have access to and familiarity with Microsoft Word, and since Kindle formatting can be very Word friendly (once you learn how to control hidden formatting in Word).

I originally had a 100 to 200-page book in mind. A couple of years back, I hired illustrator Melissa Stevens (www.theillustratedauthor.net) to design the cover. Her design seemed really magical, and it motivated me to try to make the inside of the book as magical as the cover.

I completely reorganized and rewrote the material. I did this a couple of times. At one point, it was going to be two separate volumes. In the end, the paperback edition has 522 pages on 8.5″ x 11″ pages (it’s also available in Kindle format, of course).

A few months ago, I wrote that I had spent 1-2 years working on this book, but a few weeks ago I dug up my old files and discovered that I’ve been working on this book for nearly three years. Time flies!

I spent much time experimenting with Kindle formatting, trying out a feature, uploading the file to KDP, and testing it out. This was very time-consuming, but also enlightening. I took several snapshots and included these pictures in my book to help illustrate many of the issues faced with Kindle formatting.

Much has changed at KDP in the past couple of years. A lot of these changes occurred as I was writing my book, so I had to constantly rewrite sections that I had previously written. For example, the Kindle previewer has been updated to include Auto-Advance, there are new Kindle reading apps, there is a new X-Ray feature, KDP’s print option has expanded, the 127 KB rule for GIF images has been updated, and some of the KDP help pages have been extensively revised.

My book covers the following topics:

  • The basics, like removing tabs, extra line breaks, extra spaces, page numbers, unsupported symbols, etc. One appendix lists every symbol that is fully supported across all devices (there are even notes about correct and incorrect ways to insert supported symbols). A handy checklist helps to ensure that you’ve implemented all of these steps.
  • A detailed guide to using Word’s paragraph styles to format your eBook. There is even a step-by-step tutorial in an appendix at the back of the book to walk you through it with a specific example. I provide several specific recommended paragraph styles commonly used in eBook design. I show you how to create new styles, modify existing styles, deal with hidden styles (like TOC or Footnote), manage your styles (like Disable Linked Styles and what the confusing Automatically Update box really means), and use the Style Inspector to check for common problems.
  • One chapter is devoted to picture size, aspect ratio, format, file size, image design considerations, captions, tables formatted as images, padding, transparency, and everything related to pictures.
  • Multiple sections discuss a variety of Kindle design concepts, like the challenges of formatting bullet points, issues related to left and full alignment, how pictures affect design, the helpfulness but also the dangers of the non-breaking space, and much more.
  • Another chapter shows you how to go a quick step beyond Word. I tried to make this as friendly as possible, even showing how you could be an HTML minimalist. You really don’t need to learn HTML, and that’s the beauty of it. You don’t actually have to write HTML. It’s already written. All you need to do is make small changes to a little of the HTML that’s already there, and I show you exactly which changes to make and how they should look with specific examples (I even have several complete recommended style definitions that you can copy). You can keep this simple and make just a few helpful changes, but for those who want I offer many other optional changes that you can make (for example, how to use media queries to format drop caps that work well across all devices). This chapter shows you how what you do in Word affects the HTML, which helps you learn how to control hidden formatting from Word. For those who want to work more with HTML, I show you the HTML that relates to Kindle formatting to help you better understand your HTML file, which can be helpful if you want to make extensive revisions (this is easily skipped by authors who want to avoid HTML as much as possible).
  • Learn how to preview your Kindle eBook thoroughly using the online previewer, the more reliable downloadable previewer, and actual devices or apps. For example, you can preview your eBook on a PC, laptop, tablet, or cell phone using a free Kindle reading app. Detailed checklists help you with proofreading, editing, and a variety of specific features to look for and test in the way of formatting.
  • A troubleshooting section includes several common Kindle formatting issues with possible solutions. Find detailed explanations whether you used Word exclusively or went beyond Word to use HTML (each issue offers solutions for both cases). This isn’t like a troubleshooting section that you find in the owner’s manual of an electronic device: I tried to make this readable and understandable for everybody.
  • An appendix provides a short sample eBook. Labeled pictures show you which paragraphs have which styles in Microsoft Word, and I included the full HTML for the sample eBook so that you can see the style definitions and everything else.
  • I spent much time testing out various features, and I included several pictures in my book to demonstrate a variety of formatting challenges.
  • For those who would also like to publish a paperback version of their book, I walk you through the steps involved in converting your eBook to a print-ready PDF.
  • Also find valuable tips relating to sales rank, keywords, categories, customer reviews, marketing, promotions, giveaways, and more. (Authors often tell me that the marketing advice that I include in my books on self-publishing is easily worth the price of the entire book. One section is dedicated to marketing and premarketing tips, but a few other sections also relate to marketing.)

YOU COULD WIN A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK

Enter my Amazon Giveaway (which expires at the end of March 24, 2018 in the US), which will have 50 lucky winners. That could be you, and the odds are favorable (as of now, there are about 70 entrants for 50 books, which gives you amazing odds). It’s a sweepstakes, so all 50 books will be given away, and you’ll find out if you win at the end of March 24.

https://www.amazon.com/ga/p/29e81d46a95ba752

I also have a Goodreads giveaway beginning soon with 100 lucky winners which will last for a couple of weeks.

The Goodreads giveaway doesn’t start until March 26 and ends on April 10, 2018. Once March 26 gets here, you can find the Goodreads giveaway at:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/278710-word-to-kindle-formatting-magic-self-publishing-on-amazon-with-style

If you buy the paperback version directly from Amazon, after doing so, you will be eligible to purchase the Kindle edition free through MatchBook. You could give the print version as a gift and keep the Kindle edition for yourself, or you might find it handy to have the paperback spread out on your desk while you’re formatting your next book and also have another copy that you can access from your phone or tablet.

If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can also borrow my book for free. (Amazon Prime customers can also borrow one free book per month.)

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Copyright © 2018

Chris McMullen

Great Time to Be a Muse

Muse

Are you looking for a job?

Competing against the mob?

It’s a great time to be a muse.

You’re sure to be put to good use.

Writers everywhere need you.

On their knees and begging, too.

Please, oh please, tell me what to write.

I promise to stay up all night.

The job comes with some great perks.

It’s fine if you have some quirks.

You can come and go as you please.

Redo it from scratch. Be a tease.

You’ll be free and won’t need tools.

There are just two simple rules.

The first rule is you must inspire.

Next, don’t let the writer retire.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

to Write is to Serve

Serve

Authors write books. A book is a product.

But authorship entails more than just making a product. Authorship is a service.

Ultimately, writers want their work to be read, and therefore they serve an audience. Please the audience and gain more readers.

The first step is for the content to please the audience, but it goes well beyond that.

Readings, signings, and other events allow authors to engage the audience in person.

Authors engage with fans online through fan clubs, blogs, and social media.

And let’s not forget one major service that most authors provide: marketing. Many writers spend several hours per week helping readers from the target audience find their books. This is a concerted effort that the author makes to help readers become interested in books that may be a good fit for them, but which they may have otherwise not discovered.

Feedback leads to yet another service: revisions. With the technology of e-books and print-on-demand, a book has become a dynamic product that can be updated anytime. It’s not just to correct issues, but in nonfiction is vital for keeping content up-to-date.

Our aim is to please readers. That’s why we sit at the keyboard typing for several hours per week for months or years. It’s why we revise, edit, and format. It’s why we try to find a cover and craft a blurb that will help the target audience find the right book for them. It’s our motivation to market our books. To serve our readers.

Good evening, Mr. or Mrs. Reader. Thank you for stopping by. We hope you’re having a wonderful time.

We’re at your service. Let us know if you need anything.

— authors everywhere

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Writers

Heart Book

It’s a great time to celebrate the love of writing.

  • Writing will always be there for you.
    • Except when you experience writer’s block.
  • You don’t have to try to figure out your writing relationship.
    • You’ll never understand your muse, so don’t bother.
  • The passion you put into writing will never be rejected.
    • But you might receive some criticism from readers.
  • No commitments will stress you out over your writing relationship.
    • Unless you’re presented with a contract to mull over.
  • The reason you can’t stop writing is that Cupid shot an arrow into your rear.
    • Fortunately, it doesn’t prevent you from sitting several hours a day at your desk.

Happy Valentine’s Day, writers!

This day’s for you. 🙂

Set a candlelight dinner for you and your special laptop, and enjoy.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Authorpreneur vs. Writing Artist

Authorpreneur

Authorpreneur

All authors—indie and traditionally published—are being labeled with this new term, authorpreneur.

This is easier to see for the indie author, who must not only write the book, but must also arrange the editing, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. However, the term also applies to traditionally published authors, who write query letters and book proposals, still need to market their books, and have a better chance of getting published if they tailor the book to the needs of an audience.

There is a growing perception that an author must write and function like a businessperson in order to succeed as a writer. Publishers are in the business of writing: They want ideas that will sell. Even the indie author may perceive writing as a business, feeling that’s what it takes to sell books.

Writing Artist

Let’s look at the other extreme—the author who writes passionately without regard for sales. In the utter extreme, the author doesn’t write for an audience, but for his or her own reasons. This author is driven by passion, not business. Getting the book right, carrying out the author’s vision… this author cares for this more than sales. Yes, this author would like to share his or her passion. This author won’t give the book away for free because he or she wants the work to be valued, yet this author is driven by the art of writing, not the royalties.

Which Are You?

Most authors probably aren’t extreme authorpreneurs—focused solely on business—or extreme writing artists—completely disregarding the business aspect. You might feel like you fall somewhere in between, and presently you’re trying to gauge which way you lean and how far.

Would you like to write as a businessperson or as a writing artist?

Most authors feel that they must do one of the following:

  • Sell out, so to speak, writing for business rather than pleasure.
  • Write as an artist and then publish and market as a businessperson, sort of combining the two aspects.
  • Write purely for pleasure; don’t worry about the business side at all.

However, there is another important option that most authors don’t consider.

The Art of Success

You don’t have to turn your art into a business. Instead, you can turn the business into an art.

Here’s what I mean: View marketing not as a business strategy, but as a means of sharing your passion with others. Put your imagination into it and carry out your marketing as an artist. Just like you write with passion as an artist, find a way to feel like an artist when you market your work and become passionate about marketing as a way to share your writing with readers.

It’s a matter of perspective. Consider the following definitions.

Perspective

book

  • business: a product designed to create profit.
  • art: ideas fueled by passion and crafted by a wordsmith.

cover design

  • business: a tool that helps direct traffic to your book’s product page.
  • art: a reflection of your work that helps readers find what you so passionately wrote.

editing

  • business: reshaping an idea to sell better.
  • art: perfecting the art and craftsmanship to get it right.

formatting

  • business: improving the design of a book to attract more customers.
  • art: visually complementing the beauty of the writing.

marketing

  • business: strategies for delivering the product to the target audience.
  • art: motivating yourself to share your passionate creation with others.

Readers, too

As a reader, would you rather read a book that was written for an audience and designed to sell or would you rather read a book that was fueled by passion and shared passionately?

Of course, the question is never put like this. However, as a reader you do buy books. When you buy books that were written and published under a business model, you support the perception that writing should be a business. When you buy books that were written by artists and craftsmen, you support the perception that writing should be an art or craft.

The choice is yours. Each purchase counts as a vote.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Authors, Do You Know Jack?

Jack

Jack-of-all-Trades

Is this a problem for indie authors?

I’ve seen this term used with regard to authors in a variety of contexts over the past couple of months. There are two common cases:

  1. The self-published author who does all the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing independently.
  2. When the books involve a variety of subjects, categories, genres, writing styles, etc.

But Master of None

The common implication is that the jack-of-all-trades knows something about many subjects, but is the master of none.

I would like to challenge this assumption:

  • Every year I encounter several students who not only ace one of my classes, but tend to earn top scores in all their classes. I interact with many people who have expertise on several subjects. I’m not just talking about double and triple majors, or necessarily students. Do you have any know-it-all acquaintances who you would rely on for information on any number of topics?
  • Authors need to be well-versed on several matters. For example, in addition to storytelling and writing, fantasy authors also need to understand weaponry, fighting, mythical creatures, and a host of topics seemingly unrelated to writing. Nonfiction experts need to know more than their subjects: They must also be able to explain things in a way that the audience can understand, which is a much unrelated skill.
  • Many famous authors would be described as a jack-of-all-trades. For example, consider Robert A. Heinlein, who primarily wrote science fiction and fantasy. He spent ample time doing research on biology, chemistry, medicine, rocket science, astrobiology, geology, mathematics, and many other topics. The level of detail that show up in his stories is amazing when you consider the variety of expertise that is entailed in his many novels. Other famous authors weren’t just self-published, but ran printing presses and were involved in a variety of hobbies and business ventures. Almost all of my favorite authors would be considered jacks(or jills)-of-all-trades.
  • Life experience, both range and depth, can provide valuable insight to authors. Writers who know much outside of their domains have more resources at their disposal for writing their books.

Which Trade?

Suppose you discover that you have a medical condition. The first thing you might do is buy a few books to learn more about it. When you shop for the book, you must often make a decision:

  • Although some books are written by medical experts, the layman sometimes finds the language unclear, the content intimidating, and the reading impersonal.
  • Some books are written by non-experts, but although the author may lack expertise, the author may make up for this through ample research, speaking from personal experience, or having a knack for clear explanations that the layman can understand.

The ideal case is that the author excels at both—expertise in content combined with clear, personal language. Hey, that’s a jack-of-all-trades who excels at both.

An alternative is a book with two coauthors, one who has the medical knowledge and one who can explain well to a general audience. This sounds great as an ideal, though in practice it doesn’t always work out as well as it sounds. While teamwork has much potential, it also entails cooperation and coordination. Finding the best expert and best expository writer to collaborate on the book is a challenge, too. For one, those with the best-looking resumes don’t always deliver results to match.

Either way, I appreciate the time and effort authors invest to provide helpful information. In my experience, sometimes the single author’s technical book helps me more than a similar book that was coauthored, and sometimes it’s the other way around. As a reader, I haven’t observed any reason to automatically disregard an author who tries to fill too many roles. The best criteria I see is the Look-Inside-the-Book; that seems to be a much more reliable indicator than whether the author has coauthors, has a relevant degree, hired an editor, etc.

Indie vs. Self-Publishing

Just because you don’t see a coauthor, editor, cover designer, or publishing label mentioned on the product page or copyright page, this doesn’t mean that the author didn’t seek and obtain valuable help.

It’s really indie publishing, not self-publishing. The indie author acts independently, coordinating the publishing of the book. The indie author doesn’t have to do it all by him- or herself. Although the author writes the book, he or she may recruit help in many ways:

  • Several pairs of eyes may be used to provide feedback on the writing and to edit the manuscript.
  • The author may hire an editor who doesn’t want his or her name publicized on the product page or copyright page.
  • There are numerous resources for all facets of self-publishing online and in books. Most indie authors research several publishing topics.
  • Authors can get much help from the supportive indie author community, such as formatting instructions, advice, feedback, tips, and even “I’ll be happy to help you with that.”
  • After publishing several books, each indie author has gained much experience with all aspects of publishing, often becoming not just a jack-of-all-trades, but also excelling in many areas.

What Does Your Author Page Say?

Do you have different kinds of books on your author page? Will readers wonder if you are a jack-of-all-trades?

If so, you might wonder if you may be losing sales from readers who assume that you must not have mastered either trade. Will including different books on your author page deter sales?

Maybe, maybe not, but there is another point that may be more important: There will also be readers who check out your other books and buy multiple books, whether they are similar or different. You’re more likely to get multi-book sales from similar books, but you will get multi-book sales from different books, too, provided that the first book pleased the reader.

It’s easiest to market books in your own name. You could adopt a pen name for different kinds of books, but then it’s really hard to market multiple names. Many people know you or know of you; every day, you meet new people and have the chance to mention that you’re a writer. You lose your name recognition when you adopt a pen name.

Unless you write children’s books and also write books with mature content, it may be better to put all your books in your own name than to separate them using a pen name. You might lose a few sales due to the jack-of-all-trades perception, but you might gain even more sales from people who know or meet you and from multi-book sales (perhaps not all at once, but readers who enjoy one book now and check out a much different one months from now).

Do I Know Jack?

I have a Ph.D. in particle physics; that’s my area of expertise as far as degrees go. However, I’ve published a variety of books:

  • I started self-publishing to share my passion for a fourth-dimension of space. You have to excel at mathematics to get a degree in physics, so the geometry aspect fits right in. I also coauthored a half-dozen papers on the collider physics of extra dimensions, which are published in professional physics journals, such as Physical Review. This fits right in with my expertise; plus, as a teacher, I have experience explaining abstract concepts clearly (though not all teachers excel at explanations).
  • My Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks is also closely related to my expertise. I observed that many university and high school students lacked fluency in fundamental arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry skills. This series is my effort to help improve math fluency.
  • My science books also relate to my background in physics. I have a basic conceptual introduction to chemistry, a basic introduction to astronomy, and an advanced physics textbook.
  • But my blog isn’t about physics, it’s about self-publishing, and I have written books on the matter. Does this make me a jack-of-all-trades? I don’t think of myself as just a teacher, but a writer and a teacher. I’ve self-published dozens of books, which gives me some experience. I prepared my first book over 20 years ago, although I first published in 2008. I have also drawn thousands of technical illustrations on the computer, written and edited numerous articles (the half-dozen I wrote for physics journals are quite technical, and came with a set of formatting guidelines that paralleled self-publishing in many ways), and used several software packages to write, format, and illustrate, including extensive use of most editions of Microsoft Word since 1997. I’ve become just as passionate about self-publishing as I am about physics and math (perhaps more so): I love to share and discuss ideas here at my blog.
  • At first glance, the word scramble books that I’ve published may seem out of place. How does this relate to physics? This actually started when I was staring at a periodic table while giving a final exam: I realized that I could make thousands of words, like ScAtTeRbRaIn (scatterbrain), using only symbols from the periodic table. I shared this idea with my mom, and we decided to make some word scramble books. My mom loves word puzzles, especially word jumbles, and she is very meticulous (she used to be a technical writer), so she was a good fit to write these books. I’m a coauthor of these books, but my mom deserves most of the credit. As an added benefit, it was a family project.
  • My most unrelated books are on golf stats and chess. I thought about using pen names for these, as they don’t relate to physics, but I’m glad that I didn’t. Thousands of people know my name, and while most people who know my name who buy my books pick a math workbook, science book, or self-publishing book, I still sell a significant number of golf and chess books to people who’ve heard of me (plus many who haven’t, who apparently weren’t deterred by the variety shown on my author page). I actually wrote these books for my own personal use, but published them thinking that others may find them useful, too. Also, these were among the first books that I self-published, and they gave me some valuable experience before formatting my more technical books.

Do You Know Jack?

If yes, good for you!

If you feel like a jack-of-all-trades in various ways, my advice is not to sweat it too much. You have more important things that you can worry about. But jacks-of-all-trades tend to work hard, so you should be keeping yourself too busy to worry anyway. Go get more work done, as that will be more significant than this issue.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ensure that your blurb and Look-Inside-the-Book show your strengths. Work on your weaknesses. Get help shoring up your weaknesses. Not just in the Look Inside, but throughout the book (because a sudden change after the Look Inside will impact reviews).
  • Where plausible, using your own name carries a marketing advantage and can help you with multi-book sales.
  • Every once in a while, help spread the word about the benefits of being a jack-of-all-trades or mention a story about a famous author who was a jack-of-all-trades. Help paint the perception that it’s not necessarily a bad thing; it may even carry some benefits.
  • If you hire an editor or cover designer, mention of their names on the product page (through the editor or illustrator fields) or on your copyright page (traditional publishers often only list them on the copyright page) might help to show that you’re willing to seek help when you need it. The inclusion of a references section for nonfiction can show willingness to do research. But if you don’t have any help to show, instead of worrying about it, start working on your next book or do some marketing; those things are more important.

Learn More about Jack

(No, my name isn’t Jack.)

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

You Might Be a Writer if…

Qwerty

You might be a writer if…

  1. Some of your best ideas were originally written on napkins, Kleenex, or toilet paper.
  2. You wake up at three in the morning and sneak out of bed to spend a couple of hours alone with your computer.
  3. When people act like jerks, you appear to handle it maturely, then secretly fashion characters after them to exact your revenge.
  4. You pull over to the side of the road a few times each week to jot down ideas for your book.
  5. A family member interrupts your work to ask you a simple question and you turn into a screaming lunatic.
  6. The most fulfilling conversations you have are between you and your imaginary muse.
  7. When your lucky underwear really stinks, friends know you’ve been fortunate not to get any bad reviews for several weeks.
  8. You log into your publishing account while you’re eating lunch to check on your royalties.
  9. In the middle of the night, you wake up sweating with an irrational fear that some discovered your secret pen name.
  10. You routinely turn down invitations to parties in favor of working on your book.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

What Determines If a Book Is Good?

good

What determines if a book is good?

The answer is a 7-letter word.

Unlike many conventional puzzles, plurals ending with -s are allowed.

The answer is not E-D-I-T-O-R-S. Although they may be able to help make a book better and they might be qualified to judge writing on many levels, whether or not a book is good doesn’t ultimately depend on the opinions of editors. There are, in fact, highly successful books that many editors don’t think highly of.

The answer is not R-O-Y-A-L-T-Y. A good book doesn’t need to be widely popular; a good book can provide value to a small audience. There isn’t a magic number of sales or royalties to determine if a book is good or bad.

The answer is not R-E-V-I-E-W-S. Even the most highly esteemed books receive critical reviews. So just receiving good reviews doesn’t make a book good, and receiving bad reviews doesn’t make a book bad. The number of reviews doesn’t make it or break it, either, as this depends strongly on the number of sales. The average star rating is not a good indicator, as opinions and systems for reviewing can vary wildly from one person to the next.

The answer is not P-U-B-L-I-S-H-E-R. Aside from the fact that this word has too many letters and the reality that for decades publishers have prevented many book ideas from ever being read, publishers don’t ultimately determine whether or not a book is good. In fact, there are many popular stories of publishers who have turned down books that later turned out to be amazingly successful.

The answer is not A-U-T-H-O-R-S.  Well, this depends in part on how you want to define a ‘good’ book. The author determines whether or not the book is good enough to share with others. The author also determines whether or not the book is successful; what one author considers a success, another might deem a failure. We’re not talking success versus failure, or how the author feels about his or her own book. A ‘good’ book should provide value to more than just its author.

The answer I have in mind is R-E-A-D-E-R-S. But not in terms of the total number of reviews or the average star rating; the answer is readers, not reviews.

Publishers think in terms of sales, investment, risk, net profit, and cost-benefit analysis. They don’t determine if a book is good; they strive to determine what will make them money. And they sometimes make mistakes with their predictions.

Different editors think in terms of writing style, storyline, plot, characterization, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. And each editor has his or her own set of opinions, and knowledge of various ‘rules.’ It’s possible for a writer to adopt a writing style or method of storytelling, for example, that creatively blows the ordinary rules right out of the water, while also producing a really good book. Ignoring the rules certainly doesn’t make a book good; and following any usual rules or guidelines, in itself, doesn’t distinguish good books from bad ones. (However, as you know if you read my blog, I do stress the importance of editing.)

Royalties and sales reflect how wide your paying readership is and how successful your book is business-wise. But what if tens of thousands of people read a book because you’re a very popular author, but later feel strongly that it didn’t live up to their expectations? All those sales don’t necessarily imply that the book was good. And what about the book that has a really small readership, but where most of the readers loved the book. Isn’t this book good?

What I Don’t Mean

I’m not saying that bad reviews indicate that a book is bad. Most readers don’t review books at all; surely, their opinions count, too.

I’m not saying that good reviews necessarily make a book good.

Again, I mean readers, not reviews. And I don’t mean all readers. No book pleases everyone, so it’s not possible for everyone to love a book.

What I Do Mean

If complete strangers discover a book and feel that it was worth the read—that if they had time machines at their disposal, they wouldn’t choose to go back in time and not read the book—then to these readers, the book was good.

If some wish they hadn’t read the book, this doesn’t make the book bad. Every book that’s had thousands of readers has some that strongly dislike the book.

Good, Better, Best

I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rank books. It’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges. If you love apples, can you fault the orange for trying not to fit the apple mold? Even if two books fall into the same subgenre, like romantic comedy, different authors and readers vary in their perception of just what a romantic comedy should be. So two different romantic comedies aren’t two kinds of apples, one is a lemon and the other is a lime. Two different books aren’t supposed to be the same; they were intended by their authors to be different.

What I feel is more important is the notion of improvement. I’m a fan of the compare-yourself-to-your-former-self concept. If we can all achieve this, surely the world will be a better place. If an author learns ways to improve, the author can make his or her book better.

Another factor is doing your best with the time and resources you have available. Strive to do your best each time, and as you learn and grow as an author, strive to become better. If you feel strongly that you should have done something different, then your book could have been better than it was.

Bad

When the author feels that he or she should have done better, that the book really wasn’t fit to be published, the author is judging that his or her book isn’t good. When no readers will ever feel that the book is worth reading, they are judging that it wasn’t fit to publish. (If there is a narrow audience who just hasn’t discovered the book yet, that’s different.)

A books that was written for the wrong reasons, which is lacking in effort, which no reader will enjoy, had ample potential to be something much better.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Is This a List of Stupid Questions?

Question 2

  1. What kind of fool would ever ask this question?
  2. Would anyone be foolish enough to answer this question?
  3. Why can’t you have your cake and eat it, too?
  4. Would you like some mustard for your ice-cream sundae?
  5. For crying out loud, how else would you cry?
  6. Which way did you go, George?
  7. What do you say after you ask, “Are we there yet?” and your father replies, “Yes,” although you clearly aren’t?
  8. Do you, answer, take this question to be your lawfully wedded partner, for better or for worse, till death do you part?—that is the question.
  9. You do realize that this isn’t a yes-no question, don’t you?
  10. Does a question really need to end with a question mark.
  11. This sentence, disguised as a question, is confusing, perhaps, to you.
  12. Are you you?
  13. Am I I?
  14. If a bus has 28 passengers, 6 get on and 3 get off, then 4 get on and 5 get off, then 2 get on and 9 get off, and you’re doing the math right now, why didn’t you wait to find out what the question would be before you bothered?
  15. How stupid would it be to ask this question twice?
  16. How stupid would it be to ask this question twice?
  17. What is the meaning of multiple question marks???????
  18. Is this question really loud?!!!!!!!
  19. Will you get upset if I tell you that this question really isn’t a question?
  20. Can you believe someone actually wrote this?
  21. How many more of these questions will you read?
  22. What makes a question smart?
  23. Why ask why?
  24. Why not ask why?
  25. Why ask, “Who cares?” when you don’t care who cares?
  26. When will this list be over?
  27. Did you really just waste your time reading this list of stupid question?
  28. If you leave a comment, will the reply be yet another stupid question?
  29. Is this work copyrighted © 2014 by Chris McMullen?
  30. Should we throw in another question just because?

Powerful Words

Powerful

Twenty-six different symbols arranged in different combinations.

Forty-five different sounds put together in different ways.

That’s all they are.

Yet, when we see these words or hear these words, they can be so much more.

.

String three ordinary words together and they can cut like a knife.

“How could you?”

Add in an accusatory tone; one that you’d never heard before.

Introduce them in the right context.

They can etch into your mind. Torture you.

Powerful words.

.

When three ordinary words slip out they can ruin your life.

These words weren’t even on your mind.

They were buried deep down in your subconscious.

“I don’t care!”

But you do care. You didn’t mean to say them.

You can take back money, possessions, almost everything.

But you can’t take back the words.

Powerful words.

.

Three ordinary words can bring peace.

They can save a world on the brink of war.

“I promise you.”

It’s a simple vow. But it carries much honor.

You give your word.

It can be the greatest thing you ever give.

And when you keep it, it can be the greatest thing you ever have.

Powerful words.

.

Three ordinary words can give your life meaning.

When you say them with passion.

When you realize you’ve met your other half.

“I love you.”

They might be the hardest words you ever utter.

But if they’re reciprocated, they might be the best words you ever hear.

Powerful words.

.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen