The legend of Atlantis

Backstory for those non-e-book types out there (hey, the non-Mormons get backstory when I post on Mormon stuff, so deal):

1. Last fall, when I was formatting The Proviso for e-book consumption, I made a decision to include the EPUB format, which is the heir apparent of the title “The MP3 of EBooks. ” I’ll spare you the geek politics of this.

2. I formatted it in HTML, went to BookGlutton to use their HTML-to-EPUB API. I plugged it in and voilà! a nice EPUB version of The Proviso. No muss, no fuss, and at no cost to me. Beautiful. Perfect.

3. Fast forward to March and I’m trying to format The Fob Bible.

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How valuable is knowledge?

NOTE: This is the third in a series of several posts David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I will be cross-blogging concerning the issue of authors (whether traditionally published, e-published, or self-published) actually getting paid for their work.

Outside of David’s and my continuing exploration of how to monetize our work (and for me, this means fiction), I’ve come across some interesting things that really only cement my opinion that, in a misguided attempt to be generous, knowledge is flung around like rotting leaves on a late fall day: plentiful, soggy, and seemingly worthless.

In ages past, knowledge was specialized and carefully husbanded, passed down from father to son or from master to apprentice, under the craft guild’s auspices: tailoring, goldsmithing, masonry, jewel cutting. These trades were respected, well paid, and each had their—get it?—guild to watch out for the trade. (I won’t go into the differences between a guild and a union at this time.)

tohnewlogo6Not that long ago, esoteric specialized trades with their own secrets began to write how-to books. I still liken this to the groundbreaking This Old House (and if you don’t know how groundbreaking this was in the building and remodeling industry, you just weren’t paying attention or you weren’t born yet). In 1979, I was 11 and I ate it up, glued to PBS every Saturday morning. (There’s a genome for DIYers, you see.) Still, the how-to books got bought and people learned these things—and they paid for the privilege.

A couple of years ago, I thought I’d undertake the task of making drapes, so I bought (oooh, there’s that word again) an e-book on the subject. It was self-published, an A-to-Z how-to with simple instructions laid out for an idiot ADDer like me, and far superior to anything I’d seen in a bookstore or at the library. It was $24.95 and worth every penny. (Never did get around to doing the drapes, but now I understand the concepts and principles of drape-making.)

Today, I went looking for how to create dollhouse plans and build a dollhouse. Now, I have never been into dollhouses and this project has to do with my current WIP, Stay, for which I want to build Whittaker House (a gothic revival mansion inn) and its surrounds in miniature. And I found this: FREE dollhouse plans and instructions.

I would’ve paid money for instructions like that, perhaps as an e-book or as a serial or a do-along project. I mean, she seems to know what she’s talking about, right? I wondered, “What’s wrong with that woman?”

funny pictures of cats with captionsBut then I looked at the header of my own blog, where it says, CREATING E-BOOK SERIES. I’ve been spending hours and hours building the next post on this (in case anybody was wondering where the hell it was). What’s wrong with that woman in the mirror?

Three things:

1) I’m a dilettante. I’m not sure I’m doing this the “right” way. I can only share what I’ve done; thus, I’m not sure my knowledge is actually worth anything.

2) I like to teach, and any bit of knowledge will spur me on.

3) I’m a compulsive helper. Knowledge is power and I think there are a lot of people out there who could use some empowerment.

If I had a penis and had gone to a master to teach me, say, stone cutting, my father would have paid the master to take me on as an apprentice. I would have served in his household in whatever capacity in exchange for room and board and knowledge for a period of 7 years (or more), which would have made me little better than an indentured servant. And then I would have struck out on my next phase as a journeyman and continued training. Once I earned the title of master under stringent training and specification, I could then say, “These are my credentials because I gave 14 years of my life to my trade in money, blood, sweat, and tears, and I am now in a position to charge money for my expertise and get my own little slave.”

If I had gone to college and enrolled in their fashion program, I would have paid tuition and gained credentials that told people, “Yeah, I kind of know what I’m talking about, so you need to pay me for my knowledge.” Oh, wait. I did do that. And I have a couple of awards to show for that. In my particular field of textiles, I’m considered a bit of an expert. So I charge.

But I didn’t go anywhere to learn how to create e-books. I learned my CSS and (X)HTML on my own from the free sites online (which sites exist in order to promote a standard markup). I learned the software programs by hit-or-miss. Nobody taught me; I didn’t ask anybody to teach me. I don’t feel I know enough to charge.

So why am I doing it?

To get traffic here into my blog to get you to buy my book. I am an expert on the subject of The Proviso, so I want to get paid for it. I am fortunate in that a couple of people have mostly agreed with me on my level of expertise.

Rightly or wrongly, some knowledge has to be given away to entice you to buy my product. Sometimes, those enticements don’t seem related. Obviously, there are some problems with the method I’ve chosen, which is to say, the people most likely to show up here to take the knowledge I’m offering free are probably writing books of their own and I should view them as my competition. They probably view me as their competition, too.

But say I’m wrong and it’s painfully obvious to everyone (except me and the people who take my advice) that I have no clue what I’m doing. Well, then my competition will screw up, too.

Sometimes free isn’t worth what you paid for it and can actually cost you a whole lot of real time and cash.

Creating e-books: Gather your “materials”

I want to make something very clear. What I’m doing is giving you the tools to create e-books from scratch with very little money and not a lot of automation. There’s a reason for this: When you learn it this way, you learn principles you can carry with you to other projects. If you’re expecting oh golly gee whiz bang flashy stuff, this ain’t it. It’s just the nitty gritty. Now, it is a time suck, but hopefully, if you’re inclined toward DIY and you want to know how things work, you might have fun. In fact, I want you to have fun.


For the purposes of this series, I’m going to demonstrate using a short companion vignette to The Proviso called “July 14, 2001.”


I’ve assumed you’ve formatted your cover art for use on a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback. At 300 dpi (as per Lightning Source’s specifications), that’s 1800 x 2700 pixels. I suggest you do everything to Lightning Source’s specifications because if you eventually want to go into paper, you will be used to them.proviso-cover-directory

I have several different sizes and formats of the cover art for The Proviso for many different purposes. One includes a grayscale .png file for the IMP format that is 290 x 435 because that’s the most comfortable size my eBookWise device allows. Most of the software we’ll be using will allow you to use your biggest size and will re-size it for you.

If you use glyphs (e.g., a publisher or imprint logo), they should be simple, small, grayscale, and in the .png format.


1. Title Page

2. Copyright notices

3. Table of Contents (if the work is long enough).

4. Any acknowledgments or specialty items necessary for understanding the story (e.g., family tree, maps, provisos [heh]).




I’m going to assume you’re working from a Word document. You should work from your final manuscript (with minimal or no styles applied). Do not work from your typeset-with-styles document that you will use for your PDF

A. SELECT “Save As…” THEN CHOOSE “web page (.htm; .html).”




There will be scads of lines of it at the top and some along the bottom. Take it all out. You should have nothing left except straight text with <p></p> tags.


<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN”>

<style type=“text/css”>









You should have learned how to do this elsewhere.

NOTE: In my opinion, these are the things you should include in your styles:

1. Left AND right justify your text.
2. Put a fraction of a line space between each paragraph if you wish. In e-book reading, I find this desirable, but others may disagree.
3. Indent your paragraphs. I find this desirable no matter what.
4. Make sure your left and right margins don’t go to the absolute edge of the device’s screen.


You don’t have to, but I think it means something to the reader, which is that you care. You care about your work and you care about the reader. You care about how the reader sees your work. They may not notice or they may, but you will know you did everything you could as professionally as you could.

So if this is important to you, do it. Use the HTML entity or ISO Latin-1 code for curly quotes and apostrophes, accented letters, em dashes instead of double hyphens. Find-and-replace will automate the process somewhat. Always use the ASCII codes instead of depending on the visual in WordPad; it won’t translate to Notepad if you care to use that as your editor. For an ellipses, use 3 periods with spaces between them. Do not use the ASCII or 3 periods run together. (You should probably just get into the habit of doing this in your manuscript.)

Left double quote: &ldquo;
Right double quote: &rdquo;
Left single quote: &lsquo;
Right single quote (apostrophe): &rsquo;

Em dash: &mdash;


Find any other specialty tags you used (e.g., double underline, strikethrough, etc.).


Mark it up as you wish to make it pretty, too.


Experiment. Try different things to make it as pleasing to your eye as possible. It won’t be possible for you to make it pleasing to everyone, but have fun in the trying.



I say that tongue-in-cheek because, as I’ve already discussed, there is no such thing as a page in an e-book. But for the purposes of this discussion, there is such a thing as front matter breaks, chapter breaks, and back matter breaks and I firmly believe they need to be separated and not run together.

You’ll need this tag:

<p style=“page-break-before: always”>

Live it, learn it, love it.


If you have a novella or short story, don’t worry about this. If you have a doorstopper, do this. Unquestionably.

You’ll need these tags:

table: <a href=“#MARKER NAME”></a>

reference: <a name=“MARKER NAME”></a>


If your device/reading software needs that done manually. My eBookWise does and I like it.

You’ll need these tags:

<!– HEADER –>

<table border=“0” width=“100%”>
<td align=“left”>TITLE</td>
<td align=“right”>AUTHOR</td>

<!– FOOTER –>

<table border=“0” width=“100%”>
<td align=“center”>PUBLISHER</td>


What you should have when you’re finished is a cleanly marked-up HTML document ready to put through the eBook Publisher to create an IMP file (OEB container). Open it up in your browser. Look for formatting mistakes.

We’re going to start with the IMP (eBook Publisher) because this program has a compiler that will catch a lot of your markup errors and will help you create an even cleaner HTML document for the construction of the rest of your formats.

Creating e-books: The easy way


In my last episode, I instructed you to go learn (X)HTML/CSS. I was gently taken to task for that with the point, “writers shouldn’t have to learn code.” While I am of the opinion that for some writers, this is not only true, but that they should be kept from any computer interaction whatsoever, I’m afraid it’s just not realistic in the long run. You will learn something, even if it’s only the paragraph tags and all of it will be useful to you at some point.

Yes, you can use or or any other sign-in platform for your blogging.

Yes, you can use Word and PrimoPDF to set type and distribute your work as a free PDF.

If you want to:

A. want to offer more than one file format (PDF) and/or

B. want to charge for your work

you’re going to have to either pay someone to do it for you or learn how to do it yourself.

There are quite a few places that will help you with #A.

FEEDBOOKS. As far as I can tell, if you use this service, you must offer your work for free. If this is not acceptable to you, just don’t use their service. (And if this isn’t true, let me know because I scoured the site and couldn’t find any “payment” type information. ) Also, you must manually build your book. Now, this has its pros and cons. The con is that it takes a while. The pro is that you can make it look purty with a little care and attention without having to learn much (if any) (X)HTML/CSS.

BOOKWORM. This is a peculiar service in that you may upload your own book, but the only format you get is the EPUB format. It is also more for reading than publishing (as far as I can tell; more information on this is welcome).

SMASHWORDS. This is the Q-DOS of e-book building/formatting. It’s very quick. And yeah, sometimes it’s dirty, especially if you don’t format your Word document correctly (as in, according to standard word processing practices and to SmashWords’s style guide). That’s the con. The pro is it’s fast and you can charge for your work.

I’m making several assumptions here. The FIRST assumption is that you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible. The SECOND assumption is that you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please. The THIRD assumption is that you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz. The FOURTH assumption is that you might want to get paid for your work.

So let’s talk about SmashWords.

I heard about SmashWords from Eugene Woodbury quite a while back, who used it for his novel Path of Dreams, but I dismissed it because I thought the work had to be offered free. Then Zoe Winters used it for her free novella “Kept.” Okay. But then Aaron Ross Powell used it to offer his draft of The Hole in more formats than Kindle right after I bitched about it. Then RJ Keller used it to offer Waiting for Spring, and that’s when I had the V-8 moment.

I figured, well, what the hell, I’ll try this thing. So I took a vignette from The Proviso‘s world (not in the book) called “25 to Life” and decided to put it on Smashwords.

CAVEAT: “25 to Life” did not call for fancy formatting like The Proviso does. The Proviso has blog posts, e-mails, news clippings, court transcripts, social services records, a wedding announcement, and other specialized formatting that required different fonts, spacing, and margins to make those items look good. If you have something like that, this WILL NOT WORK for you.

Assumption 1. That you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible.

They have this nifty little API they call the “MeatGrinder.” It will turn a plain, properly formatted Word document into any one or more of the following digital formats:

Format Full Book
Online Reading (HTML) View
Online Reading (JavaScript) View
Kindle (.mobi) Download
Epub (open industry format, good for Stanza reader, others) Download
PDF (good for highly formatted books, or for home printing) Download
RTF (readable on most word processors) Download
LRF (for Sony Reader) Download
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices) Download
Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting) Download
Plain Text (view) (viewable as web page) View


As you can see, that’s a lot of variation. I got both The Hole and Waiting for Spring in the RTF format, as that was the easiest for me to convert to my eBookWise reader. Powell asked for $2.99 and Keller offered hers for “you set the price.”

Assumption 2. That you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please.

I don’t even know if you have to buy it yourself (if you set a price) to download which formats you want to offer from your own site or elsewhere, but even if you do have to, you got off cheap in both time and money.

Don’t be an ass. Be courteous and leave it up on SmashWords. They did the work for you.

You will NOT be able to get a straight HTML document to download and then tweak to other formats, which is good.

Assumption 3. That you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz.

The founder of SmashWords, Mark Coker, says: “Our mission is to give every author a chance to find their audience.”

SmashWords is gradually gaining in name recognition and usage. Augment your presence on SmashWords with placement of your work elsewhere on the ’net. It benefits you and SmashWords (you know, the people who did the work for you).

Assumption 4. You might want to get paid for your work.

There are several payment options at SmashWords, which I’ve addressed. In my first “creating ebooks” post, commenter and indie author champion Morris Rosenthal told me about, which is a payment portal for downloads. He’s had quite a bit of success with this method, though I can’t vouch for it at this time (although I do intend to check it out).

However, as far as I know, SmashWords is the only independent e-publishing vendor that offers an API process AND a payment portal and quite frankly, there’s just nothing else that beats that, even if you do have to sacrifice a little formatting.

So after having put “25 to Life” up on SmashWords, used their API, seen their output, what do I think?

The HTML and Java versions (the ones that you read on your computer) are very pretty and you can adjust fonts, colors, and sizes as you like.

The plain TXT ones are, well, plain text. It says “may lack some formatting,” but if you know anything about plain text, you know that means NO formatting.

The EPUB (use with Stanza for iPhone/iTouch, Adobe Digital Editions) format doesn’t seem to have centered anything, but I can live with that.

The LRF (Sony) and PDB (Palm) didn’t pick up the italics, which is something I CAN’T live with, but it’s being worked on right now (no promises!).

The PDF looked like a manuscript because, well, it comes from a plain Word document, so you know that going in.

The MOBI/PRC (Kindle, MobiPocket) looked great.

The RTF is obviously going to look just like a Word document, and it’s my go-to for conversion to IMP (eBookWise), so I don’t care how it looks.

If you follow the SmashWords style guide to the letter, you’ll have a slew of decent-looking e-books (including EPUB!) as defined by my last post on “the page” and you’ll get them in about 3 minutes, along with a payment portal.

SmashWords is an elegant little API, and it’s still in beta testing. I can’t wait to see what it’ll be at full force.

Creating e-books

Note: I cross-posted this on Publishing Renaissance on December 24, 2008.

I’ve been thinking about offering a quick’n’dirty series on how to create various ebook formats, wondering if independent publishers (or even micro- and small presses) know how to disseminate their wares effectively in electronic format. I know PDF is the fallback position and while I have a love/hate relationship with PDF (formatting, yay! reading on computer, boo! hiss!), most people who don’t have an ebook reading device pretty much are stuck with the computer.

(This is one reason I have issues with places like Lulu, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, etc. Their electronic delivery is exclusively PDF. I don’t know if the authors have the option to create other formats or even if they’re inclined to do so, but I urge those indies who choose such providers to check it out and diversify.)

SmashWords has a grinder program that allows you to upload your document and then spits out various electronic incarnations of it, but it has formatting issues, which is to say, some it ain’t pretty especially if you have a not-very-well-formatted RTF document to begin with. Oh well and get over it. They do a marvelous job with what they get and it’s a few hundred steps in the right direction—not to mention the fact that once you get it on your ebook reading device, it probably won’t make you any difference.

But in case you do want to know how it’s done (or, more properly, how we did it, properly or not), what tools we used, why—and we invite others to correct us on more efficient ways to do it (that doesn’t involve Book Designer, thanks)—here’s the first and most important thing you have to do:

Learn XHTML and CSS. Really.

O’Reilly at Tools of Change is pushing for all formats to be based on XML, but if you’re reading this post, this is probably a DIY project and XHTML is, IMO, easier to learn. You will need this for every format you might want to offer (except PDB [Palm] and as an ebook application [iApp] to be sold in the iTunes store).

After that, it’s all tweaks and about 6 different pieces of (almost free) software.

Go on now and learn XHTML and CSS. I’m not going to post tutorials on that when others have done it better than I.