The book has now gone live on Amazon. Like most authors, I imagine, I’m nervous about reviews, although, like most indie authors, I should really be more nervous about no reviews at all: it’s a big world out there and any attention at all, good or bad, is a challenge.
For those who do read it, I’d like to hear your thoughts and areas for improvement. This is a project from a few years ago and it is far from perfect but hopefully you’ll find some positive points.
Thanks to all for the comments and support along the way. Even if I did not follow-up on a suggestion, I did give it consideration.
While creating the eBook was a little more trouble than I expected, it was fairly painless once the eBook file (.mobi) was ready to go. Amazon is pretty clear on what steps you’re book is in. They are also reasonable about setting expectations on how long it will take to process, post, setup your Author’s page, etc. Their estimates tend to be conservative and if you don’t run into problems it’s much quicker– for instance, they said it would take up to 12 hours for the book to go live but it was posted within 2 hours.
It’s been a longer road than I expected (silly me, I believed Amazon’s FAQs on publishing) but I think I have the eBook recipe ready. A final proofread is still in progress but Prince of Leaf and Stone should be live by end of the month.
The main problems I encountered had to do with getting a TOC (table of contents) in my doc, getting a TOC that comes up from the Kindle menu, getting that TOC to look right, and getting the book to open in the right spot. None of those are showstoppers but getting those right can make a book look more professional.
My experience has been with Scrivener for Windows, which is much less featured than the Mac version, in particular missing a feature that lets you set the start of doc.
Things You’ll Want
You definitely want the Kindle Previewer, which despite it’s name, not only let’s you preview your book, it will convert html and epub files to Amazon’s .mobi format.
You’ll also want Send to Kindle which is both a stand-alone app and something that you can get to from your file browser on a right click, which let’s you upload files to your Kindle (or a friend’s Kindle). Thing to remember: it will only appear on a right click for those file types it can upload (.mobi, .doc, .pdf) and not for others, like .epub.
You may also want KindleGenwhich is not needed for one-off mobi conversion (Kindle Reader does that) but can be used for bulk conversions. More importantly, if you want to write out .mobi directly from Scrivener, you’ll need KindleGen.
What Doesn’t Work: Scrivener -> MS Word -> HTML
Amazon suggests editing your book in MS Word (Scrivener writes out .doc and many other formats), adding an MS Word TOC, adding bookmarks for where your TOC and start page are, then writing it out as Web page, Filtered (html). You then use Kindle Previewer to convert the html to mobi. This does get you a mobi file and there is a TOC embedded in the document but you don’t see the TOC in the Kindle reader menu nor does the start page get set.
I found lots of kind posts on the web saying this does work or ways to directly edit the html to add the start and toc tag but none of that worked for me. Start and TOC remained stubbornly absent. From the posts I found on this, I’m not the only one who can’t get that to work.
What Also Doesn’t Work: Scrivener -> Mobi
Scrivener can write directly to mobi so I tried that. The table of contents does appear in the doc and from the Kindle menu but the starting position is second page of my TOC. This is apparently an issue of at least 2 years standing, not just an odd quirk of my doc.
The Kindle TOC also puts some but not all of my front matter (copyright, dedication, etc.) under a collapsible header. No matter how I organize my front matter in Scrivener, it doesn’t seem to group all of the front matter under the header.
Still more failure: Scrivener -> epub -> Kindle Previewer
Scrivener can also write out epub files. Tried that, converted them in Kindle Previewer. Same as the direct mobi path.
What does work: Scrivner -> epub -> edit epub file -> Kindle Previewer
After more research, I discovered that an epub file is easily editable because it is just a .zip file. Rename it to .zip, extract the files– which are all plain text– and rezip it when you are done. It’s surprisingly easy.
What you want to do, according to a forum post here is find the guide part of the file content.opf. This file can be edited with any text editor such as Windows NotePad. You will probably find something like the following at the bottom:
Before the </guide> (in html <xxx> is like an open parentheses for a particular object type and </xxx> is like the close parentheses), add the following lines (in bold), replacing body3.xhtml with the chapter you want to start with (you can open the .xhtml files in NotePad or Word or your browser to figure out which one is your chapter one):
Actually, I didn’t find a source that said to add both of the bold lines (the various pages I found recommended one or the other) but the first one of the two only seems to fix the front matter grouping problem for me, the second one actually seemed to move the start page.
Full disclosure: this didn’t actually move the start to where I told it to go but it did move it to my title page which is much better than the second page of my TOC. So I’m declaring victory.
The steps that worked for me are:
Write out a .epub file from Scrivener
Change the .epub file to a .zip file and extract it to a temporary directory
Find the content.opf file (which is usually in a sub-directory) and edit it
Add the two extra lines (above) to the guide section and save the file
Make a new zip file
Rename the zip as .epub
Use Kindle Previewer to convert the .epub to a .mobi
Check it out in the previewer (where the start page for me is actually where I want it)
Upload it with Send to Kindle and check it on a real Kindle (where the start page is not where I want it but is in an acceptable place)
This all seems like it is a lot harder than it should be because how hard can it be to specify a TOC and a start page? But there you have it; it is still pretty clunky. And probably buggy: pretty sure the start page should not be different between the Previewer and the Kindle: Amazon has something broken.
You can probably have Kindle Previewer convert the html files directly without making a .epub (i.e., skip steps 5 and 6) but I didn’t try that.
Also, if editing the html is daunting, there is a free program called Sigil that lets you edit .epub files. I didn’t try it because after many hours of messing around, I wanted to write the html exactly as I wanted it.
There are folks who will do all this for you for a fee. I didn’t price it but it shouldn’t be all that much since this process isn’t that hard once you know your way around it.
Unplanned though it was, I ended up mostly dropping my blog and my fiction writing in 2014.
The immediate cause was a pile of submissions to contests and various short story markets. While I’m pretty good these days about shrugging off an individual rejection, getting so much out there at the end of 2013 left me on edge and not interested in writing while I waited to see how things went. Plus, while writing has been a major focus for me for the last four years, I don’t have too much to show for it, so the break proved a good time to take a breather and assess where I’m going with my writing career.
The main outcome of said break? It became clear I love to write and don’t want to stop. Next realization? I hate the chore of researching, submitting and tracking agents and markets, and that’s without doing anywhere near as much of it as I should have. Waiting for a response? Not so good at that, either. Final bit: I do want my stuff to be read.
Know Thyself was good advice 2500 years ago and it’s still good advice now. Realizing the above and finding out that Amazon’s Kindle Direct is free and a cover is less than I thought, I’ve decided not to submit any more stories for now and just self-publish. To that end, I’ve got the cover you see here, a blurb in progress (feel free to comment on it here) and a professional copy-edit. I even dusted off Campaign Cartographer to update my map. It’s going to be eBook only so I’m not going to get an ISBN number and I’ll file for copyright after it goes live.
So the plan now is to publish Prince of Leaf and Stone by March at the latest, ready Shadow of the Archons for publication later this year followed by a collection of my short stories.
This plan focuses on keeping me writing (which I enjoy) and not worrying about financial success, which seems like a long shot no matter which path I pursue. So, put another way, why worry about the money too much? Meanwhile, I’ll quietly build up a portfolio.
TMSO’s comments about her previous project on N. E. White have me thinking about my own previous novel. I’ve been torn on how much more revision it needs: another tweak or a complete re-work? A tweak feels like it might be insufficient and a complete re-work has been hard to stomach. But lately, I’m contemplating the latter. It was one thing to consider (and balk at) a complete re-write when I really wasn’t quite sure what I would do in that re-write. It’s another thing when, thanks to a writing course my wife is currently taking, I have some specific ideas that I think/hope will turn some weaknesses into strengths.
As I mentioned earlier, I have had it professionally critiqued. The feedback was good and overall encouraging but I’ve still been going back and forth on whether to spend more time on it. As currently written, it is about 98,000 words and in the first person with a climax that has the antagonist acting a bit crazy. And while the main character could appear in follow-on books, any sequel would be only loosely coupled. So, the book is short for a fantasy novel, has a POV that turns some people off, has a climax that will take enough care to get just right that it probably won’t work for a fair number of readers, and doesn’t have strong sequel potential. That’s not to say it couldn’t succeed but that’s a lot of barriers to overcome. Set against that, I really like the characters, premise and setting.
So what to do with it? It’s been through many major drafts and I’ve spent over a thousand hours on it. But that’s all “sunk work” and no excuse to put more into it if it doesn’t have a future. Enter Discovering Story Magic by Laura Baker on WriterUniv.com. My wife is taking the class now and is really liking it: it isn’t just abstract things to keep in mind, it’s actionable ideas for specific projects. DSM provides a model for how to link character’s, especially their flaws, to turning points and climax. For me, it’s a model that really connects. One of the resulting epiphanies is that given how Laura defines protagonist and antagonist, I really have it backwards in my current draft. If I turn the two around, no longer will she seem crazy at the end, and I now have good material for follow-on books should it do well enough to justify one. Plus if I convert it to 3rd person, I can better setup the relationship between the two characters thus dealing with a number of the other challenges in the manuscript.
I’m going to do at least one more draft on my current project first before returning to this other one and, who knows, I may change my mind again. But suddenly I’ve moved from waffling on my earlier project to excited by it, all because of a writing resource that opened my eyes to some useful, actionable solutions. It’s been quite enlightening and even if I don’t use the model for a re-write of the last book, it is already proving useful for my current project.
In the class, students apply this model to their current project. I was looking forward to taking the course as a first step on the re-write but, sadly, it won’t be offered again this year. It does look like there are a lot of other interesting courses on that site, though, so it might be worth a look.
Red Circle Ink, a great critique service at a very affordable price (www.redcircleink.com)