Into the Technical Vortex: Producing a Kindle Ebook

Well, I’m in the mix now. I’ve signed up to create the Kindle edition of Uncommon Threads, the anthology released last June by my writing group, the Loudoun Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers. So, I’m deep in the throes of researching how to professionally produce Amazon’s mobi format for Kindle ebooks, as well as the epub format for other vendors.

I’m a software architect for my day job, in which I build large-scale web applications for various clients. At the end of the day, ebooks are HTML. which is something that I’m an expert in. Quite frankly, I think there’s a lot of substandard advice on the web regarding how to produce ebooks.

Or, to put it another way, it’s easy to produce an ebook. It’s much harder to produce a professional caliber ebook that will work on the wide range of readers and reading applications that are available in the wild.

My personal approach is evolving based on my research and experimentation. Right now, it appears as if my process is going to be something like this:

  1. Set up the ebook in Scrivener.
  2. Export to HTML.
  3. Massage the HTML.
        — Remove extraneous HTML elements.
        — Add custom CSS style sheet.
        — Organize HTML and images.
  4. Import HTML into Calibre.
  5. Export to epub format.
  6. Import epub to Amazon.

We’ll just have to see how this all works out. In a way, this is a dry run for producing my own ebooks in the first quarter of 2016.

Posted in Tools for Writers | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Just Submitted My First Story

Fear is a hard to overcome...

Fear is a hard to overcome...

I just submitted my first story for publication. It was surprisingly daunting, actually. It took more willpower than I’d expected, but I overcame my fear. For good or bad, rejection or acceptance, one of my stories, “Crossing the Chasm,” is out there in the cold, harsh world where it’s about to be judged by others.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. At age 11, I decided that I wanted to write books, science fiction adventures, just like the ones that Andre Norton wrote (Andre Norton was my gateway drug for science fiction). It never happened, partly because life got in the way and partly because it never made economic sense for me. There was no real business model for being a successful writer, not unless you were one of the top sellers.

In August 2012, I met Hugh Howey at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago; it was my first day at the con. He was an indie writer, and he’d just started achieving some phenomenal success for his serialized novel, Wool. I had dinner with him and some of his fans, and I learned a lot more about self-publishing that night. Somehow, while I wasn’t really paying attention, the publishing industry had changed dramatically, and was still changing at a high rate of speed, thanks to ebooks. According to Hugh there were opportunities for self-published authors that had never existed before.

When I returned from the convention, I began researching this self-publishing thing. I discovered that there were all sorts of opinions available on the web. Some were informed. Some were not. Others were clearly in denial. The publishing industry was obviously in a state of upheaval. And here’s what my business experience told me:

Opportunities thrive in chaotic situations.

The publishing industry was certainly in chaos. Writers could bypass the gatekeepers and market directly to readers, for the first time ever. Hugh was right. There wasn’t a better time to be a writer.

I got serious about writing in 2013. It wasn’t easy. I had a day job. A long commute. Commitments for volunteer work. But I persevered. I started writing fiction. I continued blogging. I attended conventions, notably Balticon and Capclave, but this time focusing on being a professional writer. I started networking as a writer.

I learned that writing fiction is hard. I kept writing anyway. I fixed bad habits, like only writing fiction when I felt like it — professional writers carve out time to write no matter what. I researched how other writers wrote, and adopted the tactics that I thought would work for me. I bought Scrivener, a word-processing tool aimed at writers, and it slipped smoothly into my writing process like a missing puzzle piece. I worked on my prose style, because I discovered that the techniques that worked in non-fiction, proposals, and technical documents didn’t work so well in fiction.

I measured my output, because I’ve learned in my alternate career as a software developer that you can only improve the things that you measure. When I discovered that I was spending too much time on blogging and not enough on fiction, I made a mid-year course correction.

When the dust settled, I had finished three short stories in 2013, and was working on another much longer and more ambitious story when the year ended. It wasn’t much, by some standards, but here’s the thing that’s noteworthy — I had finished three stories, and I was still going on. There are many people who dream about being a writer but never finish anything.

Unexploded OrdnanceOnce you’ve finished a story, it’s like unexploded ordnance. It’s purpose is to be used; it’s just wasted potential until it’s sent on its way. Is a story that’s never been seen by others still a story?

I had previously identified potential markets for all of my stories. Today, I submitted one of those stories, “Crossing the Chasm,” to a professional venue, as defined by the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Translation: I submitted it to a venue that pays real money, the SFWA-approved minimum rate, for stories.

It was surprisingly hard to do. Not technically, of course. In reality, it was pretty simple. I filled out an online form, wrote a short “cover letter” and uploaded a text file. Getting to that point, though, was much more difficult. Fear, especially the fear of rejection, is a powerful thing.

This is the cover letter that accompanied my story:

Hi,

My name is David Keener, and I guess I’ve tried to do something a little odd with this story. It began as a live story that I told in front of Toastmasters audiences (Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that promotes education in public speaking).

I liked the idea of “performing” slightly bent, modern-day fairy-tales with titles based on typical business subjects. When performed, this story becomes a roughly 9-minute talk. I looked at the stories I’d developed in this “series,” and thought some of them, like this one, could be equally enjoyable in print form. Hence this submission.

Naturally, I hope that you’ll agree with me.

         — Dave —

This is the start of a process. The venue to which I submitted the story will respond to my submission within 8 weeks. They’ll either accept it or reject it. If they accept it, great! I’ve got my first professional sale. If they reject it, well, it gets submitted to another venue. This will keep on going until I find somebody that will publish it.

Meanwhile, I keep writing. I keep improving my craft. I keep learning about the industry, and how I can take advantage of all the changes that have been happening. I’m a writer. I’m a creator. This is what I’ve chosen to do, and I will not be stopped.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments