Thursday, 18 September 2014

How to Become a Publisher, Step 1: Build a Website

By Corina Koch MacLeod
@Ckmacleodwriter

What’s the first step you need to take when you’re setting up a digital publishing company? Writing a business plan? Maybe not. I’d like to suggest building a website should be your first step.

Start With a Website

I have nothing against writing business plans, but the act of building a website is, to me, a more authentic exercise to help you consider what you want your publishing company to be about. You'll need to know what you're about in order to communicate it to your potential customers. Why not begin with that end in mind? 

Self-publishing author Joanna Penn has said, "I don't know what I think until I've written it down." I believe that's been true for us. Writing content for our website has forced us to narrow our focus and make lots of important decisions.

Start Small 

We've published several literacy print resources in the past 12 years, but we've decided to focus on our bestseller for now while shifting from printed books to digital resources (with printable PDFs for those who still like print). We will roll out our other resources as time allows.

We realize the Don't Panic Books website is a work in progress. We are going to make some mistakes, and we will need to make changes. It is, right now, our best attempt to communicate to our audience what we're about and how we can help them.

As we begin to interact with our audience—something that wasn't easily done when our publisher was at the helm—we can adjust our message as they make their needs more clear to us. Now, I don't know of a customer who'd read your business plan, do you?

Steps for Building a Website 

Are you setting up a publishing company, too? Are you considering selling books directly to your customers? Creating a website involves a few steps that can be a little confusing at first. Here are the basics:

1. Choose a domain name.
Your domain is the web address people will use to find your publishing company. Put a great deal of thought into what you'll name your site, and make sure it's easy to remember. There are many do's and don'ts for naming a web site; you may want to consider all of them.

We didn't choose the name of our publishing site: our audience did. The first book we published in 2002 was titled: Don't Panic: A Guide to Passing the Literacy Test in Ontario. At the time there was a great deal of anxiety surrounding the test (hence the Don't Panic in our title). Teachers were asked to prepare students for the test without resources to support this process. Teachers began to refer to our resources as "the Don't Panic books," so we stuck with the name. Listen to your audience: they may tell you something important.

When you decide on the name of your website, you'll need to see if that domain name is already taken. You'll then need to purchase your domain name from a site that offers domain names for sale. Go Daddy is popular domain registrar, but it isn't the only choice. We were able to purchase our domain name through our web host (see below).

2. Choose a web host.
A web host is a company that hosts your website. Think of hosting as space you rent on the Internet. Again, there are many web hosts to choose from, so do your research. We chose Bluehost because it 
  • offers 24/7 support for the first year,
  • has some great website building tools,
  • offers a free domain name for one year,
  • will allow us to build more than one website with the same account, and 
  • offers five free email addresses.

3. Choose a website building tool.
Website building tools are designed to make setting up a website easier. Gone are the days when you'd have to hand code your website in HTML.

Wordpress is a popular open-source website building tool with lots of features, but if this is your first website and you're looking for something easy to use, the Weebly website building tool is by far the easiest way to begin. Building a site with Blogger is an option, too, if you're interested in blogging or setting up an author website, and not selling anything from your website.

We built our first two websites with Weebly, and housed our blogs on Blogger, but recently switched over to Wordpress so we can make use of some of Wordpress' time-saving plug-ins. Both Wordpress and Weebly have options for setting up a store, or using plug-ins that enable you to sell books from your website.

4. Follow a tutorial.
Weebly is pretty intuitive, and I found I could just experiment with Weebly's drag-and-drop features to set up a website with little frustration. Wordpress was another story. It's packed with features, and it can take some getting used to. I followed this tutorial by Simon Whistler to set up the Don't Panic Books Wordpress site.

5. Use a website checklist. Once you have your website set up, you'll want to consider what features you'll need. A website checklist can help you to make decisions and keep you on track.

6. Build anticipation. Your website doesn't have to go live right away. It can go live when you're ready. See if your website building tool has a "coming soon" page template or plug-in that you can mount while you work on your website in the background.

Setting up a publishing company is a bit of an undertaking, but beginning with a website will help you to set a direction and to clarify what you want to be about.

For more information on the ins and outs of setting up a website, see Jane Friedman's post, Self-Hosting Your Author Website: Why and How to Do It.

Image by Shmuel

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Why You Should Become Your Own Publisher

By Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Are you a traditionally published author who wants to self-publish?

Carla and I have been working with a small independent publisher for 12 years, and recently we've made the decision to self-publish our educational resources. To do so, we need to become publishers.


New Series

This post is the first in a series about the steps we're taking to set up our publishing company, Don't Panic Books. These won't be "we've got it all figured out" posts, but rather, "this is what we're trying" posts. So, if you're on the fence about self-publishing, do stick around and watch our trials and triumphs.


Why Self-publish?

Why did we decide to strike out on our own? There are many reasons. Here are a few of them:

  • According to The Guardian, traditional publishing is no longer sustainable.
  • It's time to move from print to digital. Print costs and shipping costs have skyrocketed. We can offer teachers (our audience) our resources at a lower cost if we can provide digital resources and resources they can print on an as-needs basis. 
  • Removing shipping and printing from the equation means we may be able to automate the selling process. Because we're also busy editors (hands-on time), we need to figure out where we can be hands-off. 
  • Teachers are looking for ways to incorporate tech literacy into their teaching. Our interactive resources will make it easy for them to do so. There are many good reasons why going digital can help students learn
  • There is a move in self-publishing toward "going direct"—selling from your website instead of relying solely on a publisher or distributor, such as Amazon. This is especially true if you have an established audience. Now is a great time to give that a try. 
  • Author royalties for traditional publishing are typically low (8–15%), compared with self-publishing royalties (35–80%). Having said that... 
  • We don't have much to lose. These resources have been successful for 12 years. We've had a good run with them, and they owe us nothing.

Check Your Rights

We were able to stop the presses, so to speak, because we hold all rights to our books. We've realized that this arrangement with our traditional publisher has been rather atypical.

Many authors would like to take back their books from their publishers but can't because the publishers hold the rights. Check your publishing contract. Some authors can get their rights back after a period of time. You may be one of them.


First Steps

In The $100 Start Up, author Chris Gillebeau writes:
"To start a business, you need three things: a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid. Everything else is completely optional."
We have our product—Don't Panic Interactive: On-the Go Practice for the OSSLT—so we started our publishing company by devising a way to showcase it. In our next post, I’ll share the first step we took, and I’ll clarify a few things so you don’t run into the snags that we did.

Authors have been moving from print to digital and from tradpub to selfpub in waves since 2010. Are you a traditionally published author who is thinking about making the leap to self-publishing? What is the first step you’ll take to set up your publishing company?

Image by Bernard Goldbach

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Print to Digital: Cleaning Up Your Word File

by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas
If you have a print document that you’d like to self-publish, you can turn it into a digital file and convert it to an ebook.

The first step is to get it into MS Word, and this post shows you one way to do that, using OCR software.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have scanned your print document and saved it as a pdf, and then run it through an optical character recognition (OCR) program and saved it as a Word doc (.doc). Note that MS Word is your best friend right now. Editors use Word for a few reasons, and efficient cleanup and editing are high on that list.

Here’s what the file I’m working with looks like as a pdf (produced on a Macintosh Classic and dot matrix printer):


The manuscript has been marked up with pencil, and these marks are picked up by the OCR software, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here’s what the Word file looks like:


Two Kinds of Cleanup

There’s junk in the file—the stuff you can see, and the stuff you can’t. Sometimes, what’s hidden behind the scene in Word is the cause of the junk you can see—things like garbled text and wonky formatting. Also, the pencil marks that haven’t been converted to text remain in the document as pictures, and will have to be deleted. Some random characters appear, too, and the text is all boldface. These are just a few of the things you can see.

To clean up this file, will a spritz of vinegar and water do, or will you need industrial-strength degreaser? The answer depends on what you plan to do with the file next. If you’re going to revise or edit the text, clean it up enough to continue working on it, and save the heavy-duty cleanup for later.

For Initial Cleanup

The story I’m working with here is just over 4,000 words, and it won’t be converted to an ebook any time soon. I’m going to do an initial cleanup using FileCleaner from Jack Lyon’s Editorium. (Wiley Publishing has a free add-in with many similar features. You can find it here.)

FileCleaner is about US$30, but there’s a generous 45-day free trial available, too. It runs as a Word plug-in. Follow the directions on the site to download and install it. It will appear on the Add-ins pane in your Word ribbon. Here’s what it will do (you can select/unselect features):



Running FileCleaner cleaned up most of the junk in my story file—it’s now in a format I can continue to edit without too many distractions. Here’s what it looks like post-FileCleaner:


As you can see, FileCleaner didn’t catch the text that had been marked up with pencil. After trying a few ways to clean this up—including selecting the text and applying Normal style to it—I ended up having to repair it manually by deleting the picture and re-keying the sentence that’s squished together. Because my document is short, this wasn’t a problem, but in a longer document it could present a significant inconvenience. Here’s a last look at the cleaned-up text:




Other Cleanup Tips

At times, Word can be frustrating to work in—with extra page breaks and hidden formatting, it will do things you don’t want it to. For now, I’ve cleaned my file up well enough to do further editing. If your Word document is really acting up, there are a few of things to try. I’ve found that the best place to start is by using the show/hide feature on the Word ribbon. Corina’s post, Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook, shows you how.

What’s Next?

When you’ve finished revising and editing your document, you’ll need to do some more cleanup. In a future post, I’ll show you what I’ve done to prepare a document for ebook formatting—and I’ll show you the mistakes I’ve made, as well.

image by atomicjeep

Related Posts

How to Format Your Ebook the Simple Way: A Word-to-Ebook Cheat Sheet 
Use CrossEyes to Prevent Ebook Formatting Problems
Editor’s Tip: Cleaning Up Your Manuscript Can Save You Money


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How to Use Reader Feedback to Improve Your Writing

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas  @CKmacleodwriter
This post originally appeared on May 28, 2014 at The Book Designer.

Self-pubs: Your readers are trying to tell you something. Here’s how to get the most from what they’re saying.

I know I need to edit my book, but I don’t know where to begin. — Indie Author


Step 1: Start with the Reader


We hear this comment frequently from self-publishing authors. Completing a book-length work is exhausting, and the last thing you want to hear when you finish your first draft is that you need to start again, this time with revisions.

You might not realize it, but the place to begin is right in front of you — it’s the reader you’ve had in mind since you began your first draft. That reader is talking to you, and if you can figure out exactly what he’s saying, he can act as your guide in the revision, or self-editing, process.

As Hugh Howey says, “Indie authors are maniacally focused on the reader … Indie authors are doing well because they know it’s all about the reader…. It’s the reader, stupid.”

So start with the reader — the reader can direct you to the problem spots in your work, if only you’ll listen. Not only that, but careful attention to what the reader is telling you can help you improve your writing.

Where do you find readers? Well, there are your beta readers, and there are reviewers. Both are giving you feedback about your work. If you’re about to publish a book, you’ll have beta reader comments to work from. If you’ve published a book already, then you might also have reviews to scour for information.

Finally, if you haven’t previously published a book and you don’t have beta readers yet for your current work, don’t despair. You can read others’ reviews … and learn from their mistakes!

The point is, the information is out there. But you need to learn how to use it.

Step 2: Do Things in the Right Order

The Editing Continuum


In her book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing, Sarah Kolb-Williams points out that the order of things matters. A big-picture edit, for example, needs to happen before a word-level edit. In other words, when you’re at the beginning of the editing process, typos should be the least of your concerns.

We said something similar in a previous post: order matters, and as you begin the editing process, you’ll save yourself time and endless frustration if you keep this order in mind:

Big-picture —> Paragraph level —> Sentence level —> Word level

If it helps, try thinking of the editing continuum as something similar to the order of operations in arithmetic. If you perform addition and subtraction before addressing division and multiplication, you’ll end up with a meaningless jumble. Similarly, if you attend to spelling and punctuation or dialogue and characterization before you’ve resolved issues in the plot, your results will be disappointing at best.  

Recap:

1. Focus on the reader and what he says he likes about a book—and pay special attention to what he doesn’t like.

2. Order matters (see above). Don’t even think about correcting typos until you’ve got your big-picture and paragraph level ducks in a row.

Keeping these two items in mind will position you to use valuable reader feedback to your best advantage.

Step 3: Use Reviews to Improve Your Writing

Interpreting Reviews


At last, you’re ready to apply feedback to your manuscript. This is the hard part. You know where to find feedback and you know the order of revisions. We can hear you asking, “What now?”

When beta readers, readers, reviewers and editors—editors are readers, too!—offer constructive feedback, what are they actually telling you, and how can you use that information to improve your writing?

It’s possible to read what reviewers say and figure out what kind of attention your manuscript needs. Situating your manuscript on the editing continuum will also help you to determine the order in which to address things.

We searched through reviews on Amazon for examples of constructive feedback. Readers won’t necessarily tell you that you need to focus your attention on in a big-picture edit, for example, but they may suggest it. The table below interprets examples of reader feedback, so that you can see how you might identify what you need to improve on.

Once you know what readers are telling you, you can do something about it. The Google search engine is your friend, here. There is lots of great information about the craft of writing fiction on the internet. In the right column of the table, we’ve suggested some search terms you can use to find information that will help you.



*Note: As we searched the Amazon reviews for examples of the four levels of editing, we encountered surprisingly few references to typos and spelling errors. This wasn’t the case even a year ago, when comments about careless proofreading were frequent. As we’ve said before, the landscape is changing—self-publishing authors are listening, and they’re taking measures to produce professional, polished books.

How to Use this Information


You’ve received some great reader feedback, or you’ve found reviews of others’ work that might also apply to yours. And, after identifying the trouble spots in your writing, you’ve found relevant resources to help you sort things out in your manuscript.

You’re on your way.

But making revisions is slow and difficult work—don’t try to rush things. Acknowledge that your book will take time to develop, and your attention to detail now will pay off later. Keep in mind, too, that integrating all this information is complex, and it may take more than one try to get it right.

Tackle items one item at a time in an order that makes sense—straighten out the plot and fill in the holes, for example, then address pacing. Through experience and practice you’ll learn that you can’t achieve the pace that will keep a reader engaged unless you dismantle all the infodumps standing in the way.

Yes, there’s a lot to learn and it’s hard work, but if you listen to what readers are telling you, you’ll become more aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, you’ll also become a better writer.

Image by Found Animals Foundation

Related Links

How to Improve Your Writing With Macros: Tips for Beginners
3 Ways to Pare Down Your Prose
5 Things Editors Know About Readers
How to Get Helpful Feedback from Beta Readers

Thursday, 21 August 2014

8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers

FeedbackBy C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on August 14, 2014, at Tech Tools for Writers.

Many self-publishing authors use beta readers to get feedback on a book before publication. You don't have to work on paper; you can use a computer or a tablet to "mark up" or make notes on an author's manuscript. Below is a list of tools for beta readers. An author may send you a manuscript in a variety of formats, so I've included options for several file formats.

File Formats

Sometimes it will make sense to convert the author's file to another format. Many of the proofreading tools below will read PDFs. You can save an .rtf, .doc, or .docx file as a PDF with Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free). If you have a stylus for your tablet, you may be able to mark up text like you would on paper. This table will tell you which tool will read which file format. I summarize the features of the tools below.  

Tablet Apps

Adobe Reader (free)

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs, and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus
  • Search function, so you can search all instances of an error

iAnnotate

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android (free) and iOS ($9.99)
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus

WPS Writer (free)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Available for Android and iOS tablets and phones
  • Reads .doc and .docx files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Find and replace
  • Voice search
  • Syncs with desktop version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Computer Apps

WPS Writer (free and paid)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Reads .doc, .docx and .rtf files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Robust find and replace
  • Wildcards
  • Pro version can run proofreading macros
  • Syncs with the tablet app version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Adobe Reader XI (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software (see below), so you can mark a variety of proofreading errors with symbols instead of with comments
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function
  • Read-aloud feature so you can listen for mistakes that your eyes might miss

PDF XChange Viewer (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function

Adobe Digital Editions

  • Reads epubs
  • Use ADE if the book has already been professionally formatted for e-readers
  • It's not possible to mark up in ADE, but you can copy sections of text into a word processor and mark up the changes there—procedure explained by Rob at 52 Novels

Kindle E-ink Readers and Apps

  • Reads mobi files
  • Use this method if the book has already been professionally formatted for Kindle e-readers and apps
  • Highlights
  • Notes
  • A bit clunky—see How to Proofread on a Kindle for the procedure

App or Desktop Version?

Computer software tends to have more robust search functions than tablet apps, but it can take a while to figure out how to use the drawing tools to mark up the text with a mouse. Proofreading stamps are a shorthand for proofreading errors, and tend to make the proofreading process faster. Use them if the author knows what they mean (or provide the author with a glossary of symbols, if you like). Note: As far as I know, stamps tend to only work in the desktop versions of proofreading software.


Proofreading stamps
My stamp library; blue stamps by Adrienne Montgomerie

If you want to imitate the pros, you can import* proofreading stamps into your proofreading software or design your own. Louise Harnby of the Proofreading Parlour offers a collection of British proofreading stamps for free, and you can find American proofreading stamps on the Wiley Publishing website. Do you have a favourite proofreading tool not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments below.

*To learn how to import proofreading stamps into Adobe Reader XI or design your own, see this video by Adrienne Montgomerie.

Image by Alan Levine

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Book Like a Pro, Part 1
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting
How to Proofread on a Kindle
How to Check Your Ebook Using Kindle Previewer