PlayOrder does not equal 1 – Huh?

epub-toc-edit

When you’re an #indiewriter, you do everything yourself, or you pay others to take care of some of the seemingly never ending elements of the self-publishing process. Part of the reason why I entered the independent author world is to learn about all aspects of publishing, so I of course opted to assign all of the chores to myself. You learn from mistakes – well, let’s say I have learned much, including today, when I entered the home stretch of releasing From the Loft.

Today, after some changes precipitated by rushing to publication as I explained in a previous posting, I loaded all updated files to Ingram Spark, confident they would all pass the file validation process, except for one. I knew I’d have issues with the EPUB file – I always do. And I always forget what the issue solution is.

To create the EPUB files, I use a program called Calibre. It’s an amazing freeware product that is intuitive to use, so much as a freeware product can be. If you’re a self-publisher looking for a great e-book management tool, I highly recommend looking at this product. When I launched my first publication over three years ago, Summer’s Drowning, I did so to learn the basics as I prepped for the release of my first novel, Forgiveness, a year later. I’ll detail some of the mistakes and frustrations of that learning process in a future post (creating the correct PDF format was an extreme challenge that had a wonderful, cost-free solution), but creating the EPUB file was not a major hurdle, except for some minor table of content issues.

Previously, I had subverted that by simply removing the table of contents in the Calibre editor. However, this time around I wanted to understand the errors Ingram Spark said I had made (a minor ego hit, yes, but I’m in it to learn, right?), so I closely examined one of the messages that said the play order did not equal 1.

What the heck did that mean?

Google – what a wonderful tool. Apparently, Calibe attempts to build a table of contents based on metadata in the Word document (I format all of my works in Word – again, a topic for a future blog post). However, if a table of contents is not existent in Word, Calibre makes some odd programming assumptions – that which Ingram Spark throws a red challenge flag at.

Here, Calibre’s table of contents editor is your friend. No, not the CLI emulator as shown in the picture above, but its GUI representation. Yes, I know I’ll get flack from old (and I do mean old) network engineering colleagues who think using a CLI to configure network equipment is akin to blasphemy – and I would agree – but xml coding is not, nor will it ever be, my specialty.

I navigated the editor, created a basic table of contents, saved the file, and submitted to Ingram Spark. Success! Another tidbit learned, satisfying a primary objective – learning.

Now I just hope I remember how to do this when I attempt to create the EPUB for the next project.

A Horse Night Before Christmas

frong-cover-build-2Given it’s two days before Christmas, I thought it appropriate to share this excerpt from my upcoming work From the Loft, a collection of light horse-humor themed articles I wrote in the mid-2000s (available December 30, 2016):

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With Christmas fast approaching, stockings hang from every stall in anticipation that Santa Claus will fill them with carrots and other yummy treats. I decided against putting up a small Christmas tree in the barn. If the horses did not eat the branches, the tree would surely become the next paddock toy.

Now, I can say (with some bias, of course) that the ponies have in fact been quite good this year, and deserving of a multitude of Christmas goodies. So, in keeping with the spirit of the season, and with thanks (and apologies) to Clement Clarke Moore, here is what horses may be dreaming of this night before Christmas:

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the barn,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a yawn.

The stockings were hung by the stalls with care,

In hope that St. Nicholas would soon be there.

 

The ponies were nested all snug in their shavings,

Visions of alfalfa igniting their cravings!

Leaving the barn and pushing the wheelbarrow,

I had just finished my chores ‘til daylight tomorrow.

 

When out in the paddock there arose such a clatter,

And I ran from the field to see what was the matter.

Through the gate, I made a mad dash,

Forgetting the hot tape, a spark with a flash!

 

The moon above cast a pleasant blue glow,

O’er the field I no longer had to mow.

When, what my wandering eyes would see,

Not eight reindeer, but a John Deere ATV.

 

The four-wheeler driver I knew in a lick,

Excitedly I exclaimed, “It is Saint Nick!”

He gunned the throttle and turned the key,

And the engine backfired, scaring me!

 

“Now Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Rudolph,

And all the rest are home goofing off!

Forget milk and crackers, I need fuel,

And in exchange here are gifts of yule.”

 

His offer was certainly quite generous,

If not perhaps a wee bit ridiculous!

“Sure,” I replied, not knowing why,

But just then he made that four-wheeler fly!

 

With a thud the tires landed on the roof,

All dogs responded with a stereophonic “woof.”

As I shook my head, turning around,

I knew how crazy this story would sound.

 

He wore leather from his head to his foot,

A throwback to the 60s was his enormous boot!

A round bale he had flung on his back,

And just for that feat I would give him no flack.

 

His eyes, how they twinkled, and his dimples, how merry!

Yet he had to unload his gifts in a hurry.

Slowly he steadied himself on the roof,

Then slipped and fell, landing with an ‘Oof!”

 

A riding crop he held tightly in his teeth,

“I used to ride but lately I’ve been weak.”

I offered the appy for a short trail ride.

“She’s gentle and kind and will stick by your side.”

 

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I watched him try to ride by himself!

“I have to admit,” he said with some dread,

“I always use the autopilot in my sled!”

 

He spoke no more words, and cantered with a jerk,

But the horse was nice and did all the work.

Soon he dismounted and left hay and gifts,

Then gunned the ATV and drove off very swift!

 

I surveyed the barn and marveled at it all,

The overflowing stockings in front of each stall.

A sound bellowed from the ATV’s fading taillight,

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Read, Chickle, Enjoy!

read-chickle-enjoy

I use an editing service for most of my writing projects, but often after the “final” edits are completed, I “tweak” the results, often more than once. Well, perhaps ten or twenty times. At some point you just have to “let go” and give the work you have labored on to the public, and realize as soon as you release it you will find fifteen things you would like to change – all in chapter one.

The danger here though is in introducing new errors to the manuscript. As an indie writer who reads my manuscripts likely hundreds of times during the entire creative process, simple spelling errors are prone to overlooking. I try to reduce that possibility by first reviewing the “final” manuscript in Microsoft Word, then the formatted PDF (on my PC and Kindle and a copy printed at home), then the MOBI file on my Kindle. All of these steps to ensure that when I send to Ingram Spark, it is an error-free product.

Ingram Spark recently had a promo for indie writers – for the period of a month, Ingram waived all setup fees. I’m all about saving $49, so I rushed through my final proofing and submitted on the last day all error-free files – the pdf of the full cover and manuscript (for printing) and the properly formatted EPUB file (for eBook readers). I was quite pleased with myself for meeting this self-imposed deadline.

Still, there is one more check I like to perform before the book goes on sale – ordering one printed copy for myself. Actually, this time I ordered two – I was so confident the resultant product would be perfect that the second copy was for a gift for my mother. She provided material I thought I had lost for the project, From the Loft, a compilation of articles I had written for a magazine years earlier. She would get the second printed copy for Christmas.

I excitedly opened the package, confident of the contents. Immediately I noticed an error, if only a sight one – both front and back covers were slightly off-center. Sizing these for printing is somewhat of an art. Still, the error was not obvious, and I figured most would not see an issue.

Then I opened the book to the last page of the preface. I had changed the last line at the last hour before submission to be “Read, chuckle, enjoy!” But somehow between my typing, proofing and submitting, the “u” in “chuckle became an “i.”

“Read, chickle, enjoy?” Nope. That was in your face (even if few read the preface in books anyway).

Of course, that one error led to a review of the whole book, to which I discovered a few more minor errors and another major one – “Chapter Twenty-Sox.” The review also led to about two dozen minor changes – see the end of paragraph one above. An artist is never satisfied with their work.

The lesson learned? If you rush, be prepared to pay. In the next few days, after I finish my final, final, final reviews of Word, PDF, and Kindle files, I will submit the updated files to Ingram Spark and pay the $49 I had tried to avoid. But the end product is better, and I come away with another tidbit of experience to pass on. And that is why I entered the indie writer world over three years ago – to learn, experience, and share.

And my mother will still get the “collector’s edition” – errors and all.

 

How (Not) to Write a Novel

My second novel is a prequel to my first. Therefore, I already had an end to write towards, and the only major project restriction was certain characters, times, and events must transcend the gap between the two works. Otherwise, I was free to explore the backstories with relatively few limitations.

I welcomed the writing scope freedom, and began to construct the novel quite differently from any I have worked on before. I opted to try a new concept (to me), the “Stream of Consciousness” method. I do not really know if others have written on this method (I suspect they have), but if indeed such guidance existed, I did not seek those resources. I developed the process on my own.

Here is how it works: Write. Then write more. Then write more. Do not follow a structure, just imagine you are telling a story, and then tell it – except in this case you make it up as you go along. I thought this approach would bring more authenticity and likability to the plot than if I followed a more structured methodology (outlines, sticky notes, and so on), and I suppose, in some aspects it did. Without any guardrails, I could place my characters anywhere, doing anything, with anyone. I could develop new characters on a whim and flip a plot 90 degrees if the urge hit. I brought my characters down interesting paths of lust, betrayal, struggle, discovery, anguish . . . there was a lot going on!

Then I encountered problems.

Was this character’s actions actually “in character?” How plausible is it for the protagonist to be at that exact place at the exact time when it flipped the story arc? Why is this offshoot relevant to the eventual ending? What was the story I was trying to tell, anyway? Novels have endings, of course, but an ending does not make the art. It is the last piece of key lime pie after a seven-course Thanksgiving meal.

What was I cooking?

The result is much of the branches, while excellent and fun to write, ended up in the deleted folder. Those that were merely stubs of a few hundred words ended up deleted, hidden from anyone else’s eyes forever.

Can I state with any conviction that time writing dead ends was wasted? I believe so – to an extent. Had I created better (or even some) guardrails besides just an ending, I would have not traveled so many spurs. As I prepare for beginning my next novel in a month or so, one decision is finalized – I will, as I have with other works previously, draft an outline, sketch the major players, and thereby guide the stream. Yet the boundaries shall be looser than before – somewhere there is (for me) a perfect balance between structure and free form. I just need to discover that sweet spot.

The Welcome Post

Welcome!

I am an indie author with four published works – two novels, a collection of poems, and an anthology of humor articles. I began my indie journey a few years ago after a random discussion with a colleague of mine about a new indie resource his company had just launched (Ingram Spark). With 4+ years experience in all aspects of book creation, I hope my musings will provide my peers and others interested in the indie space information, comfort, and encouragement.

My works may be found on my indie author website, http://www.secondchancebook.org.