Author Help

This post’s for the other writers out there.

My friend and fellow author Russell Phillips has recently gone into business providing support services for self-published authors. His Author Help business offers proofreading, formatting, technical support, and very reasonably priced web hosting for authors.

I’ve known Russ for over twenty years, and he’s been a huge help to me over the past few years with self-publishing and website issues. I can heartily recommend his services – I’m planning on moving my web hosting to him soon. So if you’re an author in need of help, then hey, why not try Author Help?

Bargain Steampunk Stories in the Smashwords Summer Sale

bookdesign346Are you looking for some summer reading? Maybe something packed full of high adventure, Victorian society and strange machines? Something with a hint of mystery and a little twist of romance? Then look no further.

As part of Smashwords’ massive summer sale, Suits and Sewers, the second book in my Epiphany Club series, is currently available for free in all e-book formats, and the third book, Aristocrats and Artillery, is available for only $1.50. The first book, Guns and Guano, is already free, so you can get all three books for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Join Dirk Dynamo, Isabelle McNair and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms as they face ninjas and outcasts in the sewers beneath London. Then follow them to Paris for run-ins with spies and gangsters, as the city of love falls under siege from the advancing Prussians, and relations in the group take a surprising twist.

The Smashwords summer sale runs until the end of July, so go grab the books now while they’re going cheap, and spread the word so that other people can enjoy this cheap literary goodness.

 

Creating Book Apps With AppOpus – a guest post by Russell Phillips

Digital publishing has opened up a wider range of options for authors than ever before, but few of us are making the most of them. Today I have a guest post from Russell Phillips, on a format with exciting new possibilities, and one few authors are considering – book apps.

Over to you, Russell…

 

This post will explain how to create book apps for Android phones and tablets, which can be uploaded to Google Play and the Amazon Appstore, both of which pay 70% of list price per sale. The apps are created using an application called AppOpus Builder. At the time of writing, this costs $99, with a 30-day money-back guarantee. You’ll also need to install the free Java Development Kit (JDK).

AppOpus Builder creates apps that are effectively an ebook with a built-in ebook reader. The reader software includes a search facility and text-to-speech (TTS). It’s not as fully featured as some ebook reader apps, but it has all the essentials, and TTS is a nice addition. My only complaint is that the user has to tap a button to turn pages, instead of swiping. The developers have said that they’ll consider adding swipe page turns in a future version.

Why a Book App?

If you know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it’s possible to make ebook apps that are far more interactive than standard ebooks. Depending on your niche, this might be a big advantage or it may be an irrelevance. In the Operation Nimrod app, it is possible to display the floor plans at any point in the book, which isn’t possible in the ebooks. This is a useful feature, which isn’t really feasible in a standard ebook, but it’s barely scratching the surface of what is possible.

There is another, less direct, advantage. The Google Play store offers A/B testing of descriptions, something that is not currently offered by any of the ebook or print book vendors. The results could be applied to the book’s other formats, with the caveat that what works for the app won’t necessarily work for other formats.

Ultimately, the only way to be sure whether a book app will sell is to create one and see. So far, I’ve sold very few of the paid versions of my apps. The ad-supported ones do better, but generate very little income. On the other hand, they don’t seem to affect sales of the print and ebook formats. I haven’t tried Amazon Underground yet, but it would be interesting to see how that compares.

KDP Select

It’s not entirely clear to me whether or not a book created with AppOpus is covered by KDP Select’s exclusivity requirement. The Terms and Conditions for KDP Select state that “During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or a book that is substantially similar), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.”An app is certainly a “digital format” and I suspect that it would be considered “substantially similar”, since it is effectively a book with a built-in ereader app. However, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t work for Amazon, so I may be wrong.

Source Files

AppOpus Builder is not a writing tool. Rather, it will take a collection of files (one per chapter), and turn them into an Android app. HTML files are strongly recommended for the source files, but it can also import RTF and plain text files. A basic knowledge of HTML is therefore useful, but not essential. JavaScript can also be included, and can be used to add a level of interactivity to book apps. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. HTML Dog has some good HTML tutorials if you need them.

Images and JavaScript

Put all of your content files in a single folder. Images, JavaScript, and other media should go in a sub-folder. When referencing external files in the HTML, prefix the path with a “./”. For example, where you might normally have an image tag such as:
<img src=”foo/bar.png”>

In AppOpus Builder you should instead use:
<img src=”./foo/bar.png”>

Linking to Other Apps

You can include links to web pages or other apps in the app store. To link to an app, you will need to know its Package Name (see the Application section below). Assuming the app’s package name is com.author.awesomebook, the link to the Google Play store would be http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.author.awesomebook and the link to the app in the Amazon Appstore would be http://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/dl/android?p=com.author.awesomebook

These links can be used in web pages as well as in apps.

Running AppOpus Builder

AppOpus Builder consists of two files, AppOpusBuilder_Commercial.jar and AppOpusBuilder_Commercial_Ads.jar, which are delivered in a zip file. Unzip them to a convenient location, then double-click on the relevant one to run the program. Both versions work in the same way, but AppOpusBuilder_Commercial_Ads.jar includes a small advert at the bottom of the screen in the finished book app. This gives the possibility of offering a free version with adverts, and a paid version without adverts. This is a reasonably common option with Android apps.

If adverts are not included, the book app will require no special permissions. If adverts are included, the book app will require some special permissions, so that the app can download and display adverts.

Cover

Screenshot_-_Cover

Chances are that you’ve already got a cover, and hopefully it was designed by a professional. You can use this in AppOpus, but there are other options. As you move your cursor around the display on the Cover tab, different parts are highlighted. If you want to just use your existing ebook cover, click when the edge of the rectangle is highlighted. In the dialogue box that appears, click foreground-image and select your file. Then, click foreground-scale-type and select either “fit” or “fill”. “Fit” will scale the image to fit in the screen without changing the aspect ratio. If the aspect ratio of the image doesn’t match that of the screen, there will be blank space around the image. “Fill” will stretch the image to fill the screen, avoiding blank space, but stretching (and distorting) the image out of shape if the screen’s aspect ratio doesn’t match that of the image. Remember that the user may turn the device onto its side, so that the width is larger than the height, so the distortion may be significant.

If you don’t want a fixed image that will either have blank space or be distorted, the cover can be configured to automatically adjust to the screen size and orientation. In this case, you can set images and text separately. Two images can be chosen, a background image (which will always be stretched to fill the screen) and a foreground image. In addition to the two scaling options mentioned above, there is also “center” and “pack”. “Center” will position the image in the centre of the screen. Any parts of the image too large to fit on the screen will not be displayed. “Pack” positions the image below the title text. The text can be split into header, title, and footer sections. Simply click on the relevant area, then specify the font, size, colour, and text to display.

Contents

Screenshot_-_ContentsRather confusingly (to me at least), the Contents tab does not define the table of contents for the book. Rather, it is used to determine how the table of contents is presented.

Click on the table of contents to see the options dialogue. Most of it is self-explanatory. If the disable-tts box is ticked, there will be no text-to-speech option in the finished app.

If the show-about box is ticked, an extra “About AppOpus” entry will be added to the bottom of the book app’s table of contents. When tapped, this entry will display a “Powered by AppOpus” screen. I disable this screen, but it includes a message at the bottom directing the user to appopus.com for help and troubleshooting, so you may wish to leave it enabled.

If you wish to display ads in your book app, you’ll need an AdMob account, which in turn requires an AdSense account and an AdWords account. These can be created during the AdMob sign up process. In order to set up ads in your app, add the app under the Monetise tab of AdMob, then create an Ad Unit for it. In AppOpus, enter the Ad unit ID in the admob-id box in the options dialogue on the Contentstab. Once the app is available in Google Play, link the ad to the app on the AdMob home page.

Chapters

Screenshot_-_ChaptersOn the Chapters tab, click the folder icon in the bottom-right corner. In the dialogue box that appears, select the folder containing the content files and click Open. All of the files will be listed in the table.

Drag and drop the chapters into the correct order. Click on a chapter name to edit it. The chapters will appear in the table of contents as they are listed on this tab. If a file is renamed, click the refresh button at the bottom of the screen to reload the list.

Note: if you re-open a saved file, the chapters may not be in the correct order. Make sure you check them before creating a new .apk file.

App

Screenshot_-_App

Signing and Keystores

Android apps need to be digitally signed. AppOpus Builder signs the app file, but it needs a keystore file in order to do so.

If you already have a keystore file, click on the Keystore… button to select it, then fill in the Keypass, Storepass and Alias boxes.

Screenshot_-_Key_Certificate_Tool

If you don’t have a keystore file, click on the Generate Key… button. This opens the Key Certificate Tool, which is used to create the keystore file. Click the Output As… button to select a file to save the keystore as. It is very important to keep the keystore file, alias, and passwords safe. If you wish to update an app, you will need the keystore file that you used to create it.

Fill in the text boxes using the following as a guide:

  • Common Name: Your name
  • Organizational Unit: Put something like “Apps” or “Mobile apps”
  • Organization: If you have a publishing company name, use that. If not, use your name
  • City, state, country: The city, state and country where you live
  • Alias: Leave this blank
  • Key password, store password: The passwords. You will need these if you have to update the app later

Click Generate Key to create the keystore file. The Keystore, Keypass (Key password) and Storepass (Store password) fields in AppOpus Builder will be automatically filled in.

Application

To select the launch icon (displayed on the phone/tablet) click Launch Icon PNG… and select a .png image file. I use the same icon as in the Google and Android app stores. I haven’t been able to determine what the splash icon is used for, and so I use the same image file for that.

Title is the title that will appear on the phone/tablet, under the launch icon. I suggest you use the same title as you set in the app stores, but note that the Google Play store won’t allow titles longer than 30 characters.

The Package Name must be unique among your apps, and should be in com.domain.appname format. For instance, if your website is author.com and your app is called Awesome Book, the package name would be com.author.awesomebook If, like me, you have a .co.uk domain, just use uk.co instead of com, eg uk.co.author.awesomebook

The Version Number is used by Android to determine if an app has been updated, so make sure that every time you update an app, you increase the version number before creating the .apk file.

Finally, click Output As… to select the destination .apk file and click Create App to create the app.

Testing the App

You now have an Android app, packaged as a .apk file. If you wish to install it on your Android phone or tablet for testing before uploading, you will need to go to Settings and tick the Unknown sourcesbox (depending on your device, that will be under Applications or Security). Once that is done, copy the file to your phone or tablet and tap on it to install.

If you don’t have an Android phone or tablet, and don’t want to buy one (a cheap one should be sufficient, as long as it’s running Android v2.3.3 or later), you can install an emulator. The Google and Amazon app markets both require screenshots to be uploaded when listing a new app, so you will need something to run your app on.

Both app stores have a facility for sending test versions to specific users before releasing the app to the general public. When uploading a .apk to Google, select the Beta or Alpha tab. On Amazon, select Live App Testing. For Google Play, the testers have to be members of a Google+ community or a Google Group. On Amazon, you simply enter a list of names and email addresses. In both cases, only the testers will be able to access the test version of the file. In both cases, you can add yourself as a tester. I strongly recommend doing this so that you can try the app on your own phone or tablet before submitting it for sale.

App Stores

To sell on the app stores, you will need to register. It’s free to register on the Amazon Appstore, while Google Play charges a one-off registration fee of $25. Once registered, uploading a new app is reasonably straightforward and similar to uploading an ebook to the various stores. I’ve found that the vast majority of my sales (over 95%) are from Google Play.

Both stores require certain images to be uploaded along with a description, etc. There is some commonality in the images they require. I suggest creating the following images, so that you have everything required for both stores:

  • Icon, 114 x 114 pixels. PNG, with transparency
  • Icon, 512 x 512 pixels. PNG, with transparency
  • Promotional graphic, 1024 pixels wide x 500 pixels high. JPEG or PNG, no transparency
  • At least three screenshots, JPEG or PNG.

Make sure that all of your screenshots are one of the following resolutions: 800 x 480px, 1024 x 600px, 1280 x 720px, 1280 x 800px, 1920 x 1080px, 1920 x 1200px, or 2560 x 1600px.

Both stores will accept videos, too. For Google Play the video will need to be hosted on YouTube, whereas for Amazon the video file is uploaded directly.

There are a few differences between the two app stores, explained below.

Google Play

Once an app is on sale at Google Play, it is possible to A/B test the graphics and description. Under Store Listing click Experiments to get started. The graphics (icons, screenshots, etc) and description can both be tested in this way. Although the test results are only directly relevant to the app, they also provide an indirect way of testing descriptions to be used on ebook and print book stores.

The Amazon Appstore doesn’t appear to have an equivalent of Amazon’s Author Pages, but Google Play does: Developer Pages. Once an app has been published, click Settings then Developer page to set yours up. A short description, developer icon and header image are compulsory. You can also enter your website’s URL and choose one app to be featured, giving it pride of place on the page.

Google Play doesn’t allow pre-orders, or initial app availability to be set for a future date. However, updates can be set to go live in the future (Google calls this “timed publishing”). If the app is initially published to the Beta or Alpha channel, timed publishing will be available for updates. So, if you wish to use timed publishing for a new release, make sure you publish an initial version to the Beta or Alpha channel, then publish an update to the production channel.

A recent addition is the User Acquisition Performance report, which gives details of the number of visitors to the Google Play store listing, and how many of those people installed the app.

Amazon Appstore

Neither store allows pre-orders, but Amazon does allow availability to be set for a date in the future. This does, at least, allow you to set a date for the app to become available, making it easier to release it on the same date as other formats.

The Amazon Appstore now has Amazon Underground, which is similar to KDP Select for ebooks. Users install the Amazon Underground app, which gives them access to the apps enrolled into Amazon Underground for free. Developers are paid for the time that users spend in the app, currently at the rate of $0.0020/£0.0013/€0.0018 per minute.

Amazon Underground doesn’t require exclusivity, but it does require some slight changes to the app. It must have a unique package name. Amazon recommends appending “.underground”. For instance, an app with the package name com.author.awesomebook would have the package name com.author.awesomebook.underground on Amazon Underground. The app must also have the Amazon Underground branding added to the launch icon. The Migrating Your App to Amazon Underground page has full details of all the required changes.

About The Author

Russell Phillips is a computer geek and an award-winning author of military technology and history. Born and brought up in a mining village in South Yorkshire, he has lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Staffordshire. His articles have been published in several magazines, and he has been interviewed for the American edition of The Voice of Russia. He currently lives in Stoke-on-Trent with his wife and two children.

The Changing Face of Book Marketing at #FantasyCon2015

BFS_Logo_red_SMALLOf all the panels I attended at Fantasy Con, the one that most sticks in the memory was ‘Turn Up the Volumes: Marketing and Selling Books’. Not because of how much I learned from it, but because of how different the tone was to last year’s equivalent.

Same Panel, Different Industry

 

Graeme Reynolds is a small press publisher, with an indie outlook and approach. Last year, he sat on a similar panel in a position of isolation. The conversation was oriented toward big publishers and big book shops, the mainstays of traditional publishing. A lone voice toward the self-publishing end of the spectrum, Graeme struggled to be heard, looking increasingly uncomfortable as the assumption behind the panel became clear – this was about how people published by big businesses could get themselves noticed.

This year was completely different. Graeme was in the mainstream of the conversation, alongside other small press and indie writers. Big publishing was represented on the panel, but it didn’t dominate. The result was advice that anybody could use, and a far more relaxed Graeme Reynolds. He was actually smiling when he came out of the panel.

The Difference Twelve Months Makes

Why am I talking about this?

Because I think it’s very telling. Publishing is changing at a huge speed. Self-publishers and indie publishers are finding more success due to the internet and particularly Amazon. Big publishers are ditching their marketing budgets for all but the biggest names. To be relevant, a panel on marketing books has to be providing advice you can follow even if you’ll never get on the shelves of Waterstones.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into a single panel, but it seems to me that attitudes are shifting. Fantasy Con is quite oriented toward traditional publishing, but this year its marketing panel was built around where the industry is going, not where it used to be. Everyone is adjusting to a new reality that makes big publishers less central, but also makes the hardline indie voices, who believe the big publishers are dead weight giants, look less realistic and more fanatical.

A more diverse, do-it-yourself industry is emerging, and it’s one where hard working, determined small publishers like Graeme can comfortably be heard.

Where’s Our Advice?

So having sat through such a practical panel, what advice can I offer you? What nuggets of wisdom did the panel offer?

Honestly, very little I hadn’t heard before. Be positive; interact with people on social media instead of spamming them with sales; do what you’re comfortable worth; identify and focus on your ideal readers.

Half the reason old and new publishing have found this middle ground is that there’s a growing consensus on how to sell books in the early 21st century. If you want to learn about it then don’t listen to me, go direct to experts like Joanna Penn, the Sell More Books Show, or Graeme Reynolds himself.

How Can I Afford Professional Editing? – A Guest Post by Sue Archer

To many people, editing is the dark half of producing a book. The creative work is done, and now someone comes in with a red pen and decimates your beautiful manuscript.

In reality, editing is a vital part of the process, a creative act in its own right, and one we can’t afford to neglect. Today I’m privileged to have a guest post from the ever insightful Sue Archer, an entertaining blogger and professional editor, on how you can afford professional editing. Over to Sue…

How can I afford professional editing?

One of the challenges indie authors face is the cost of hiring a professional editor. Writers on a tight budget often wonder how they can possibly afford such a service.

Picture by Matt Hampel via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Matt Hampel via Flickr Creative Commons

Like all professionals, editors need to make a living, and charge accordingly — but there are ways that authors can reduce their spending while still benefitting from the services of a professional editor.

As a freelance editor who works with indie authors, I’d like to share three ways that you can reduce your editing costs: improve your self-editing, obtain a lower-cost editing service, and negotiate a services contract that is right for you.

Improve your self-editing

If your editor charges based on an hourly rate (which many editors do), the more effort that your editor spends on your manuscript, the more cost to you. So anything you can do to improve the shape of your writing before submitting it for editing will benefit you. Submit your work to writing critique partners or beta readers for feedback. Take advantage of good self-editing resources like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. And find out where you have weaknesses and work on them.

Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most common issues with initial drafts is that they are too long. Almost any manuscript has areas that can be cut to tighten the writing. Find out the standard length for your genre and work towards it. Take some time between your drafting and revisioning stages, so that you have the objectivity to spot things you can remove or change. Reducing the word count will lower your editing costs.

When you get to the detailed self-editing stage, I recommend using a style sheet. A style sheet is a place for capturing stylistic decisions on items such as spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. (I have a free style sheet template on my website that you are welcome to use as a starting point.) A style sheet will help you confirm that you’ve applied the same style consistently throughout your manuscript. In addition to helping you self-edit, it will save your editor time and potentially help your wallet as well.

Obtain a lower-cost editing service

You’ve done all the self-editing you can. Now it’s time to see if you can find a really cheap editor who will catch the rest of your mistakes — right?

Nope. (Sorry!)

There’s no getting away from the axiom that you get what you pay for. Qualified editors charge for their services accordingly. Going with an editor who advertises an extremely low rate could result in you wasting your money. What I recommend instead is that you find a flexible, professionally trained editor who offers lower-cost types of editing services. (And yes, I am biased here — but I have heard many horror stories from authors who received the equivalent of a spell-check when they thought they were getting a real edit.)

A manuscript assessment, for example, is an excellent way of getting feedback from a professional editor for a lower cost than a substantive edit. The editor writes a report outlining the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and recommends changes. You can then apply this feedback to your writing.

Another alternative is a time-based mentoring service. I have seen this service become more popular in editing circles, especially among editors who work primarily with indie authors. It allows authors to get some advice on an area they need to work on without going through a full edit. I offer this service for writers who are looking for feedback on a particular section of a manuscript or have editing-related questions.

In general, having a flexible editor is an asset. Some editors offer set prepackaged services, while others package each project individually. Ask your editor if there are ways you can reduce the cost of an edit, such as paying for fewer editing passes.

Negotiate the right editing contract for you

So you’ve done all you can to find the editor and editing service that’s right for you and your budget. Now you can relax!

Not quite. Before going ahead, I’d make sure you take a thorough look at the terms of the editing contract (and if there is no form of contract, whether formal or informal, I recommend you look elsewhere).

The editing contract is a key tool for controlling your costs. And, like any contract, it is negotiable.

Be sure to verify exactly what is included in the service. What does a “substantive edit” or a “copy edit” mean? Will the editor review the manuscript again after you make changes? If you’re not sure about something, ask, and get the answer in writing.

Check to see what the maximum fee will be under the contract, and how things will be renegotiated if more work is needed than originally estimated.

Finally, pay attention to cancellation terms. If you are not satisfied with the service as things progress, can you cancel with partial payment? Is there a kill fee? How much notice is needed? The last thing you want to do is continue to spend money on something that is not working for you.

You can afford a great editor

There are many wonderful professional editors who provide great work for a reasonable cost. You’ve spent a long time working through your manuscript — why not spend a little more time and money to make it the best it can possibly be?

***

If you’ve worked with professional editors, what was your experience? If you haven’t, and you are a writer, is there anything holding you back from hiring one?

If you have any questions about editing in general, please feel free to ask me below or contact me directly. I’d be happy to answer them!

Four Reasons Why Amazon’s Pay Per Page Is No Bad Thing

Borrows of this book will now earn me somewhere between diddly and squat, and that's fine.
Borrows of this book will now earn me somewhere between diddly and squat, and that’s fine.

Last week, Amazon announced that they are going to change the way they pay authors for books read on Kindle Unlimited, the Kindle subscription lending library. There’s been a lot of opinions expressed about this, of course, but here’s my two pence worth.

I think the pay-by-page thing is a really good idea in the context where it’s being applied – Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited lending library. It’s going to slightly reduce my income through there, as most times people borrow me on Unlimited are for a very short book, but that’s fair enough. It’ll stop people gaming the lending system by deliberately filling it with short books, while still letting those with legitimate short books make some money off it. The suggestion I saw that Amazon might later extend this to sales is an interesting one, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it, but right now it would go completely against Amazon’s self-publishing business model. They very carefully give control to authors, including control over pricing, within some fairly generous limits. It’s a good model to motivate authors in a way that profits Amazon, and pay-per-page for lending achieves the same goal in a different way. I’d be surprised to see them spread pay-per-page to sales, but then we live in surprising times.

Someone suggested that this model might lead to padded and unedited stories, so people are reading more pages. I’m sure a few unscrupulous and stupid publishers will do that, but in the current market, which contains a huge amount of choice, I don’t think it will get them far – especially in a subscription service like Kindle Unlimited. People reading from the front end of this pay-per-page model have access to a huge library of books to choose from, and the real money for an author is in getting them to stick with you. If you present a 200 word story padded out with 200 words of crap, lots of readers won’t continue to the end, never mind the next book, so you might only get paid for fifty pages. Whereas the leaner, better 200 page version is more likely to get 200 pages of payment and maybe more on later books, as well as taking less work. Sure, some people will game the system, but the more I think about it, the more I think this whole thing could reward good writing.

Looking more broadly, this is a change in Amazon’s relatively new lending library platform. The whole thing is pretty experimental. Their self-publishing sales platform is now well established, and making a change like this there would be much more disruptive and create far larger backlash, for better or for worse.

Looked at in the broadest sense, Amazon are too smart to try applying a single model to everything. They understand that’s not how the internet works.

In short, I think this is probably a good thing. It more closely aligns the interests of authors and readers within Kindle Unlimited, and that should lead to rewards for authors being more closely connected to a good reading experience. Surely that’s a win-win situation.

How To: Large Print Books

Today’s post is a guest post from indie author Russell Phillips. If you like what you read, or are interested in military history, then please check out Russell’s site.

Over to Russell….

How To: Large Print

Some time ago, I decided to release a large print edition of A Damn Close-Run Thing. It’s not necessarily something that I would recommend to other indie authors, unless you have reason to believe that there is a market for a large print version. In that case, this post should help you create something that is genuinely useful for those people that struggle to read standard print.

Font and Font Size

Obviously, large print books need a larger font size than normal. 16 point is generally considered a minimum size, though 18 point is recommended if at all possible. Having decided on a minimum font size, there should be no text in a smaller size. Page numbers, copyright information, etc should all be at least as large as the main body text. Headings should use a larger font size, as with normal print, but nothing should be smaller than the minimum size that you choose.

LargePrint

It is also important to consider the font face. A sans-serif font should be used, and if at all possible, avoid using italics, underlining, or blocks of capital letters. I recommend the Tiresias LPfont. This font has been specifically designed for use in large print documents, and can be freely downloaded from the Tiresias website. (Note that the contents of the Tiresias website is in the process of being moved to theRNIB website).

White Space

In general, plenty of white space makes a book easier to read for those with sight issues. Single spacing can make it difficult to find the start of the next line, so use 1.25 or 1.5 spacing instead. Similarly, indented paragraphs can make it hard to find the start, so use block paragraphs instead of indented paragraphs.

Margins should be wider, at least 25mm (1 inch) wide. If you have footnotes, move them to the end of the chapter or to a section at the end of the book, so that they do not clutter the page.

Left Align

Most print books use full-justified text, so that the right side of the text is lined up along the right margin. However, this leads to uneven gaps between words. For this reason, left-justified (or ragged-right) text is more readable, and so should be used in large print books.

Headings should also be left-aligned rather than centre-aligned. This makes them easier to find.

Images should be aligned to the left for the same reason, but there should be no text to the right of the image. A partially-sighted reader may not realise that there is text next to the image. The image should be clear, and any text inside the image should obey the same rules as the rest of the text in the book. If possible, move the text out of the image. If this isn’t possible, ensure that there is good contrast and that the text is on a plain background.

All text must be horizontal, including things like labels on diagrams and images.

Keep Things Together

It is important to keep related items connected, without large spaces. If your contents page doesn’t already have a row of dots between the chapter name/number and the page number, add them. Tables should usually have lines around the cells. It is also important to avoid widows and orphans (single lines from a paragraph at the top or bottom of a page).

Don’t use hyphens. If a word won’t fit on a line, put the whole word on the next line rather than splitting it with a hyphen. Hyphenated words (eg u-boat) should be on one line, not split over two lines at the hyphen.

Use a Clear Layout

Hopefully your books have a consistent layout already, but this is particularly important when designing books for the partially sighted. Headings should be clearly different to the body text. It’s a good idea to include chapter names on page headers if possible, as it allows the reader to easily determine where they are in the book.

Mark it as Large Print

Finally, make it clear that the book is a large print edition. In Createspace, make sure that the “Large Print” box is ticked on the Description page. This will allow Amazon and other retailers to categorise it as a large print edition. In order to make it clear to human readers, however, the title should be modified. This need be no more than appending “(Large Print)\” to the end of the title. The cover should be marked to show that it is a large print edition. This can be as simple as a coloured band with “Large Print Edition” printed in it.

DCRT

Further Reading

This blog post covers the essential points. If you wish to find out more, the following are likely to be useful:

Conclusion

Making a large print version of paper books isn’t too difficult, although a large number of images will make it more challenging. In my experience, sales have been minimal. That may be true for you too, but the only way to find out for sure is to try it.

Anybody for a little light reading?

Turns out I have a terrible pleading for help face.
Turns out I have a terrible pleading for help face.

Dear reader, the time has come for me to ask you a favour. Not a big one, if you enjoy reading what I write, but a favour none the less.

Would you like to help proofread my new book?

I’m about an hour’s editing away from finishing the first book in a new steampunk adventure series. I can’t afford professional editing, so I’m relying on folks I know to read and comment on issues both big and small. Laura’s going to have a first read through, and in about a week’s time I’ll be sending it to other people for comments. If any of you would like to help out, and have time to read and comment on a short book (novella length – around 30,000 words) then please let me know. The more eyes I can get on this first volume (and the second, if you enjoy it enough to comment on that one too), the less likely I am to publish some awful rambling mess.

Anyone who helps out will receive my eternal thanks, along with an acknowledgement in the book and some kind of writing/blogging favour. I’d say a free copy of the book, but the first volume’s going to be free anyway. But hey, help with both books and get a free copy of the second one when they come out!

If you’d like to help out then please leave a comment below or contact me by whatever other means you have.

Thanks in advance!

Why just Kindle?

Lies - High ResolutionI mentioned yesterday that, for now at least, my latest book is only available on Kindle. I know I have some readers who use other devices, and that this has to be annoying for them, so I thought I should explain why, as well as talking about my views on how Amazon approach this.

For those who don’t know, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing includes an option called KDP Select. If an author enrolls one of their books in KDP Select then they gain certain advantages – primarily that they can give it away for free via Amazon for a few days, which most authors can’t otherwise do, and it is included in the Kindle Unlimited reading package, increasing the likelihood of people reading it and giving the author a taste of that sweet, sweet Unlimited money. The catch is, each time you enroll the e-book in Select you do so for 90 days, and during that time you can’t publish it in other e-reader formats.

Normally, this is something I don’t do. I have no objection to Amazon offering benefits to those who work solely with them, but I’d rather not be reliant on one platform and am uncomfortable with the potential monopoly it supports.

That said, having something in Select is a potentially huge way for an author to find new readers and draw them to their work. On that basis, I’d been planning on putting something on Select at some point, though I hadn’t yet worked out what.

Then this November hit and I took on more than I could do at once. Formatting a book for Amazon is relatively easy using Scrivener, but formatting for Smashwords takes a lot more work. So rather than stretch myself further by preparing Lies We Will Tell Ourselves for Smashwords, I decided to make this my experiment in trying out Select.

Of course the same workload also meant that I dropped the ball in getting the book up on Select, not sorting my free days out in time for the book to go live on Monday, and then finding on Tuesday that I couldn’t start the free days on the day I was in. But I’m there now. Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on Amazon from now until Sunday, please go grab a copy and enjoy.

Sorry to my non-Kindle-using readers – I’ll make it up to you at some point, I promise!

Using Regular Expressions To Find Common Errors – a guest post by Russell Phillips

Today I have the honour of hosting another guest post from indie author Russell Phillips. Russell combines an insider’s knowledge of the challenges of indie publishing with a computer programmer’s awareness of how to get the most out of the tools available to us, and this post brings those things together to offer a technological solution to many of your editing needs.

Over to you Russell…

Using Regular Expressions To Find Common Errors

I have a great editor, but I understand that she is human, and therefore she makes mistakes, and misses things, just like I do. Therefore, I like to try and make my manuscript as good as I can before I hand it over to her. The trouble with editing your own work, of course, is that all too often, your brain sees what is supposed to be there, not what is actually there.

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One tool I use for finding errors is regular expressions. Regular expressions are like search and replace on steroids. Instead of finding simple strings of text, regular expressions provide a way to find patterns within the text. This makes them ideal for finding certain types of error that can occur all too easily when writing a long piece of text. The use of copy & paste, deleting, etc, can mean that even simple grammatical mistakes or typos can slip in and not be noticed.

Below I have listed some regular expression searches that I currently use on my manuscripts before sending them to my editor. To use one of them, simply copy it into the “Find” box in your word processor, just as you would type in a word you wanted to search for in the text. Note that they are formatted with a different background colour because spaces at the start or end can be important. It is possible to use regular expressions to replace text, but I haven’t included replacement expressions because I prefer to be cautious and make corrections manually. I’ve tried to order them in increasing complexity, and I’ve included some explanatory text for each one.

The expressions given below should work in LibreOffice and Scrivener version 2.4 or later (earlier versions don’t support regular expressions). Microsoft Word also supports regular expressions, although the syntax is rather unusual, so you’ll need to check the documentation for help. Whichever software you use, you will have to tell it that you’re doing a regular expression search, rather than a normal text search. In LibreOffice Writer, use the “Find and Replace” function (not “Find”). Click “Other Options” in the dialogue box, and tick the “Regular expressions” tickbox. In Scrivener project search, select “RegEx” from the operator section of the magnifying glass icon menu. In Scrivener document find, select “Regular Expressions (RegEx)” from the “Find Options” drop-down menu.

Note that, when copying and pasting from your browser into the search box, make sure that the quotation marks are correct – they sometimes get mangled.

Punctuation And Quotation Marks

This is a simple expression, but there are two versions. In British English, the convention is to have commas and full stops outside quotation marks, whereas in US English, commas and full stops are placed inside the quotation marks.

Expression to find commas and full stops inside quotation marks (use this if you write in British English):

[.,]“

Expression to find commas and full stops outside quotation marks (use this if you write in US English):

“[.,]

These simple expressions match a quotation mark followed or preceded by a full stop or a comma. Square brackets are used to group characters, so that if any character in the square brackets is present, a match is found. In this case, the square brackets are used to match a full stop or comma, but nothing else.

“a” instead of “an”

This expression will find words that begin with a vowel immediately preceded by “a”, instead of “an”:

a [aeiou]

The first three characters are simple: space, lower case “a”, space. Then square brackets are used to group all five vowels. Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly.

Oxford Commas

At school, I was taught not to use Oxford commas, but I use them in my books because they can avoid ambiguity. Unfortunately, because I didn’t use them for so long, I frequently forget to add them. Consequently, one of the first regular expressions I wrote to check for errors in my writing was to spot missing Oxford commas. Note that this won’t find every sentence that is missing an Oxford comma, but that’s why you have a human editor 🙂

w+, w+ and 

If you have the opposite problem, and you don’t want Oxford commas, the following expression should find them:

w+, w+, and 

“w” matches a word character, ie any character that can be part of a word (letters, numbers, etc). The “+” means at least one of the preceding characters must be present, so “w+” matches a word.

Missing Capital After Full Stop

I started using this expression after seeing this error in a book published by HarperCollins. If the big publishers can miss such basic mistakes, so can the rest of us.

Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly. Acronyms followed by lower case letters, eg “The N.C.O. said” will not be matched.

[^.][^A-Z]. [a-z]

This expression introduces a new twist on the use of square brackets: if the first character in the square brackets is a “^”, it matches anything NOT in the group. So, “[^.][A-Z]” matches anything that is not a full stop, followed by anything that is not an uppercase letter. The next term is “.”, which matches a full stop. When not in square brackets, a full stop is a wildcard, but placing a backslash before it tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a full stop, not as a wildcard. Finally, it matches a space followed by a lowercase letter.

Missing Brackets

It’s far too easy to forget to close brackets, or to accidentally delete the closing bracket. This expression will find an opening bracket that doesn’t have a matching closing bracket.

([^)]*$

Since parentheses have a special meaning in regular expressions, the opening bracket is prefixed with a backslash. This tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a simple opening bracket. The “[^)]” matches any character that is not a closing bracket, and the “*” means “match this zero or more times”. Finally, the “$” indicates the end of the line/paragraph.

Repeated Word

Repeated words crop up sometimes, and often aren’t noticed if the word happens to appear at the end of one line and the start of the next line.

b(w+)b b1b

This one may look rather odd, but is simple once you understand it. As above, “w+” is used to match a word. The parentheses are used to group the characters that are matched, so that they can be referred to later in the expression. The “1” matches the group in the parentheses. “b” denotes a word boundary. In this case, it is used to ensure that only complete words are matched. Without the word boundaries, it would match a term like “anderson song” as the “son” would be matched in both words.

Putting all that together, this expression matches a complete word, followed by at least one space, followed by the same complete word.

Want To Learn More?

If you want to learn to write regular expressions to find the mistakes that you find yourself making, www.regular-expressions.info is an excellent learning resource, and regex101.com has a regular expression tester, which will also explain the elements of the regular expression. Finally, feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I will try to help.

 

About the blogger

Russell Phillips is an author of books on military history and technology. Born and brought up in a mining village in South Yorkshire, Russell has lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Staffordshire. His articles have been published in Miniature Wargames, Wargames Illustrated, and the Society of Twentieth Century WargamersJournal. He has been interviewed for the American edition of The Voice of Russia. He currently lives in Stoke-on-Trent with his wife and two children.

 

Picture by Joanna Penn via Flickr Creative Commons.