KDP Conversion Oddness

Anyone who’s used Smashwords “meatgrinder” understands the sense of trepidation one feels while awaiting the outcome of the document-to-eBook conversion process. This is the process of turning a .doc format into the various formats readable by eBook readers, such as mobi and epub. Because meatgrinder spits out a variety of formats, one encounters numerous error messages before finally getting it right! It all boils down to how the word processor document is formatted.

Amazon’s eBook publishing service (Kindle Direct Publishing) only converts to mobi, which is the Kindle format. Because it’s only that one format, success is much easier to obtain. If corrections need to be made, it’s usually small design issues and rarely a problem.

Until now. Until yesterday when I tried to upload my eBook-ready Critter Tales book file. There were major problems. This was especially puzzling because I had used KPD’s own software, Kindle Create.

The file looked perfect in the Kindle Create previewer.

In the KDP previewer, however, something was clearly wrong.

Images were missing as well. Of course, I immediately contacted KDP and they were very prompt with a reply. It’s been passed on to technical support and they promise to get back to me by Dec. 23rd.

So much for getting it out in time for a good holiday promotion. It could still make it for Christmas and Kwanzaa, but I’ll have missed Hanukkah plus any opportunity to build an enticing case to promote gift-buying sales.

Oh well. No one to blame; sometimes things just work out that way. I could have started this project earlier, but I don’t even blame myself for not doing that. I’ve been busy finishing up my sequel, and of the two projects that’s my priority. So while I’m awaiting word from KDP, I’ll get back to that.

Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier Saves The Day

I’m wanting to offer an e-version of Critter Tales, like I did for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. I plan to do this with Amazon’s Kindle Create, using the print replica option. This option works best for books like 5 Acres & A Dream The Book and Critter Tales because of the numerous images and complex formatting. The print replica option doesn’t require reformatting the entire book into a flowable form. Each page is a replica of the printed book.

Before I do that, I want to update the “Also By” page, to include the books I’ve published since Critter Tales. However, I need to remember which fancy font I used! Fortunately, I keep a record of the various fonts I use, but I also wanted to show you a very hand tool, Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier.

That’s it! Easy peasy

You can find Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier here.

AI for Proofreading

I decided to try something different for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. I decided to experiment with a couple of software programs that use artificial intelligence to proofread.

Spellcheck has been around for awhile, and many word processors have grammar checkers. LibreOffice does, and it serves for my first check. An independent grammar checker is LanguageTool. I downloaded it from the Ubuntu Software Centre and use it as my second check. The third is Grammarly, which I have found useful for catching things the other two don’t.

I think the AI proofreaders are helpful for basic copy editing. They catch spelling errors, punctuation such as comma placement, and some formatting inconsistencies such as extra spaces between words. Quotation marks are another helpful catch. Should they be straight or curly (aka “smart”) quotes? Traditionally, printers used curly quotes and these are still considered good typography. More good uses of AI are to catch hyphens verses the various kinds of dashes and ‘which’ versus ‘that.’

Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion. Temperature, for example. Is it written as 80°F, 80° F, or 80 °F? It depends on which authority one asks. The National Geographic style guide prefers the first. Technical style guides prefer the third. Some say to write the symbol out as “degree.” For anything where opinions vary, I think the most important thing is to be consistent.

I get dinged a lot for spelling. Usually, it’s because I’m using a word not found in the program’s spelling database. Grammarly has been useful for catching things such as ‘a while,’ which I tend to type as ‘awhile.’

Of the three, Grammarly offers the most detailed analysis. I started with their browser add-on, which I uninstalled after a couple of weeks. Problem? It “corrects” as one types, which is like having a backseat driver continually trying to grab the steering wheel. Then it sends a weekly score comparing word usage and error totals to other Grammarly users. I found those things to be annoying. Instead, I use the online version at their website.

They have a basic free version and a subscription version. The free version catches grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, alerts for wordiness, and detects tone. It grades clarity (“very clear”), engagement (“a bit bland”), and delivery (“just right”). It gives me a score and lets me know how many advanced alerts it found, in case I want to upgrade to premium.

To its credit, Grammarly recognizes ellipses, which the other two do not. Since this book is a sequel, I quote myself a lot, rather than rewriting the material as new. To keep it succinct, I use ellipses.

Grammarly’s paid-for premium service critiques inconsistent writing style, unclear sentence structure, overused words, ineffective vocabulary, hedging language, impoliteness (?), insensitive or non-inclusive language, inappropriate tone or formality level, and checks for plagiarism. All of this for about $140 per year if billed annually. They do offer frequent discounts. I haven’t completely ruled this out, but I haven’t ruled it in either. I don’t always agree with their assessment, and if they want auto-debit billing, forget it. Plus, if one follows up with a human editor, what’s the point?

Do any of these AI proofreaders take the place of a human editor? Of course not. But if one is paying an editor by the hour, it’s helpful to have as few errors as possible.

Progress!

Final draft is almost done! Then comes editing, photos and captions, page design, and putting it all together: front matter, main text, and end matter. Creating an index is always a big job, but fun. Then cover design.

So I still have a ways to go, but getting all the words down and in order is the bulk of it. A huge job that makes an upcoming book more of a reality than a wish.

Lamenting the Loss of the Pronoun “One”

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I lament the loss of “one” as a pronoun. It’s still around, understood to be a generic impersonal pronoun which can function in the first, second, or third person. Unfortunately, its use nowadays is considered to be too formal for common use and has been replaced with the more informal “you.”

Grammar experts recognize that one, you, we, and they are all generic impersonal pronouns, meaning they refer to a person or people in general. But since “one” seems too formal for today’s casual society, it is increasingly replaced with “you.”

And that’s the crux of my complaint. In my experience as a blogger, using “you” is all too often personalized by the reader. Instead of understanding that I’m applying my ideas to people in general, the pronoun “you” is interpreted to mean I’m pointing at the reader. Unfortunately, readers can easily find that offensive and take issue! The potential for an interesting exchange of ideas is hijacked with an assumption of something I never intended in the first place. The exchange becomes one of trying to clarify (often to no avail) my point. I never have this problem when I use “one” instead of “you.”

In the first person, I’m just as happy to say “I” to refer to myself as “one.” For the third person, however, I think we should seriously consider a return to using “one” instead of “he,” “she,” “s/he,” or whatever we’re trying to do nowadays to not offend anyone. “One” perfectly fits the bill.

If we are trying to communicate useful and meaningful ideas, what purpose do distractions in the form of pronouns serve? Especially when they offend someone or make them defensive. Why derail intelligent conversation when we can easily encourage it with a simple indefinite, gender-neutral pronoun no matter how stuffy it sounds?

Care to join me in my return it its use? The more often people read and hear it, the more common–and acceptable–it will become. I think it’s a simple step in the right direction.

Victim of a Price War?

Today I received an email from Kindle Direct Publishing content investigation notifying me that Walmart is listing one of my titles below the list price I set. ($11.48 instead of $12.95. In addition, they are offering the book at a “rollback” price set the same as Amazon’s discount.) KDP informed me I need to adjust the list price in accordance with their price matching policy. The problem is, I don’t want Walmart to display an incorrect retail list price!

My expanded distribution is through Ingram Spark, where the list price is set the same as KDP. Obviously, I don’t want to start lowering my book’s price just because retailers want to engage in a price war. I’ve contacted IS, but they say they can do nothing. I’ve contacted Walmart, but so far have received no reply. I replied to KDP content investigation to state that I did not authorize Walmart to lower the list price. I asked for their help. In addition I queried the KDP community forum, but so far my question is still under review.

Of course, a lower list price means lower royalties. But the real problem is that if two or more sellers get into a price war and the author is required to adjust their selling price, then the author is no longer in control of pricing their books. Having that control is one of the benefits of being self-published.

Hopefully this is just a mistake, not a true price war, and Walmart will make the correction. If they refuse, then even if I lower my list price there’s nothing to stop them from lowering their’s again. That could be a problem, because there is a limit as to how low I can price my titles, based on print costs and seller’s discount.

At this point, all I can do is wait and see what happens.

Writing Workflow

I’ve always liked to consider myself an organized person. For example, I use the geologic filing system for all important papers. Everything is on my desk in a pile with the oldest material on the bottom, the newest on top. This actually works quite well, until I tidy things up and put everything someplace where I will remember where it is. (Ha!)

Computers are supposed to make organization better. That may be true in theory, but I can’t seem to get my practice in line with that. I usually end up with documents, links, and other bits and pieces of information spread out all over my computer. It takes just as long or longer to find things on my computer as it does on my desk.

When I’m working on a writing project, that won’t do, especially when it comes to numerous rewrites and edits that occur during the creative process. It took awhile, but I finally worked out a simple way to keep track of where I am.

I keep a folder on my desktop named for the book I’m working on. Inside that folder are subfolders: chapters, cover, end matter, front matter, images, research, and Zim files. Zim is a desktop wiki which I find invaluable for notes, outlines, deleted cuts, and keeping track of links.

The folder I access most often while I’m writing is chapters. Like most writers, I tweak a chapter every time I read it. I’ve discovered, however, that days later I sometimes don’t like my tweaks as well as my original. If I’ve been continually overwriting a chapter, the best I can do is hope my memory can get the words back.

I’ve learned that the easiest way to keep track of what I’ve written in the past is to save the chapter under today’s date as soon as I open it anew. I have a series of the same chapter, all dated according to when I worked on it. All available to go back to compare and pick and choose what best says what I want to say.

Simple, I know. But sometimes it takes awhile of experimenting with systems to figure out that simplest is always the best.