Using Windows Software on a Linux Machine

So if I want to convert a PDF copy of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book into an eBook, how do I do that if the conversion software isn’t compatible with my operating system? The answer? I must create a virtual machine on my computer that can run Windows. How do I do that? With Oracle’s VirtualBox.

VirtualBox is virtualization software. It can be installed on any host operating system, and be used to run a huge variety of guest operating systems. My host OS is Xubuntu Linux. My guest OS will be Windows 10. VB does this by partitioning off a small section of my hard drive and installing Windows there. When I start VB and choose Windows, it opens Windows in a private space within Xubuntu. On my desktop it looks like any other window. If I maximize that window, then you’d never know it was any other than a Windows machine.

Once I had VB installed I added the VB extension pack. After I installed Windows, I added Guest Additions. Both of these increase the functionality of Windows as a guest OS on my computer.

The challenge, then, is to share files between the two. I have my PDF on Xubuntu, but since Win 10 is sandboxed, how do I let Windows access it? And how do I get a copy of my finished Windows work back to my regular OS? For that I had to create a shared file as part of a networking system between Xubuntu and Windows. Once I had that created and added my PDF file, I was able to download and install Kindle Create within Windows and get started on my project. The completed project is saved to the same shared file, so that I can upload it to KDP when it’s ready.

Bundles and Series

Bundles and series are two publishing devices for eBooks that seem to work well for both readers and authors. I’m just starting to branch out in both directions.

A bundle (also called a box set or omnibus) is a collection of short related works. These are usually priced more economically than the individual volumes making them a good buy for someone who likes a particular author and the subject they are writing on.

goat_bundle1When I published the first volumes of my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, it was fellow homestead author and blogger Anna Hess who suggested that I bundle them when I’d written enough. The other day I realized I’d done just that. I have five goat related how-tos on offer, enough to bundle and offer at a 4-for-3 price.

There is only one set of front and back matter, with the individual eBooks treated as sections. I combined the photos from the four eBook covers to create a new cover, but I still kept my overall series look.

One question authors ask is whether to include their bundle as another volume in the series. I decided against that because it isn’t a separate volume, but a combination of volumes. My solution was to call it a new series, “The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos Bundled Editions.” Not particularly clever, but a search engine will bring up both options so I think it’s a good one!

My other project is to create a series of eBooks from Critter Tales. A series is just that, a long work broken down into shorter segments. Oftentimes the first eBook of the series is sharply discounted or even free. This gives readers a chance to sample a new author. If they like what they read, they are likely to be willing to buy the rest of the series. Or in my case, they can simply buy the tales for the critters they are interested in. I’m tentatively calling my series “Critter Tales Series.”

concerning_critters_cover350x233Critter Tales lends itself well to this idea, because the sets of tales focus on one type of critter each and can make stand-alone reading. Pictured on the right is the cover idea I have.

I think cover design is important, and this is similar enough to the paperback so as to offer instant recognition. eBook covers are a different ratio than paperback covers, so that allowed me to adapt the cover images and highlight the one pertaining to the subject.

“Concerning Critters” is the title of the paperback’s introduction, so it will be my free offering to the reading community. The various sets of tales will be priced according to length.

This project is rather slow going at the moment, because eBooks require a different setup than print. This means I need to create a fluid file for uploading, and photos make this more challenging than text-only documents. My goal is to have it all done and released well before Christmas.

Inconvenient Quirks of LibreOffice 3.5

Firstly, let me acknowledge that my operating system is somewhat dated. Not outdated (as in obsolete), but not the newest and brightest version. Consequently, some of my software are older versions. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write has been corrected in an updated version of LibreOffice or not. I certainly hope so, because for eBook publishing as .doc files, it’s the best Ubuntu has to offer.

The problem? This

LO culprit1It’s that little paragraph mark that you wouldn’t even see unless I clicked on the “Nonprinting Characters” button before taking my screenshot.

LO_culprit3

This is actually a very useful tool for an author, because it shows me the formatting of my document: spaces between words (or extra spaces), paragraphs, tabs (a no-no in eBook publishing, we’re supposed to use styles), stuff like that.

The problem is that the paragraph symbol is supposed to look like this

paragraph_symbolCan you see the difference? In the first photo the circled paragraph symbol is underlined and dark blue like the links are. In the last photo it’s plain black. What I have figured out is, that when it looks like a link it creates problems with whatever follows. It’s not a link, but somehow it influences the next paragraph when the eBooks are published.

One problem I’ve had is that the entire paragraph following such a symbol will have blue, underlined text. It doesn’t link to anywhere, but the formatting is the same as a link. Recently I encountered a new problem. Smashwords sent me a notice flagging ePub navigation issues with the table of contents in one of my Little Series books. For awhile I was stumped. All the links worked in my .doc file, so what was the problem in the ePub version? I finally realized that it was one of those blue underlined paragraph symbols. One of them was in the table of contents and the chapters following were the ones with issues. Once I corrected that, the problem was solved.

How do those paragraph symbols get that way? They happen every time I hit “enter” after linked text. Usually I put the links in last, but it happens if I’m updating or correcting.

So I’ve learned to check all my paragraph symbols before uploading a file for eBook conversion. After many hours of frustration, it’s a relief to finally find the answer. Hopefully the newer version of LibreOffice won’t have this problem.

Of Fonts and Fractions

Until I started formatting the interior file for my first print book, I pretty much took fonts for granted. After all, choosing a font was simply a matter of going to a drop-down menu and clicking on the one I liked. What could be easier than that? What I didn’t realize was that a font set must be built, one character at a time: letters, numerals, symbols, in regular, italic, bold; they are each designed and crafted to become beautiful tools to enhance our writing.

Some fonts are designed for easy reading on a computer screen. Others are designed to read better in print. All of them come with a license for use, and many of them are copyrighted, which means it’s possible that a royalty must be paid to use them. The fonts that come pre-installed on our computers are included in the license we receive with our operating system. That license covers computer and internet use of the fonts, but not necessarily use in print.

I set about trying to find open source fonts for my books from the beginning. The license for these allow their free use in all media. I found beautiful fonts that mirrored the classic fonts used in print and have been using them happily until recently. What happened recently? Fractions.

My current project is a print version of How To Bake Without Baking Powder. The “problem” is that it contains 54 recipes, and that all of those recipes contain fractions.

There are several ways to deal with fractions. They may be written as decimals, for example, 1½ may be written as 1.5. That one’s easy enough to figure out in a recipe, but what about 1⅔? Would you be quick to use a recipe that used 1.66 instead? While most font sets contain the standard quarter, half, and three-quarter fractions, many of them do not allow for thirds and eights which are not uncommon measurements in recipes. I learned that when my fonts formatted like this in my desktop publisher:fraction font blank boxThe little blank box ought to be a ⅓.

Now apparently, both InDesign CS4 and QuarkXPress 8 can make OpenType fractions, but alas, Scribus cannot. That sent me scrambling for a font set which contained those much desired fractions. In addition, it had to look good with EB Garamond, my primary font.

After a little experimentation, I chose Linux Biolinum. It’s a rather classic looking sans-serif font, which seems to pair well with EB Garamond, my rather classic looking serif font. The only downside is that each fraction must be manually updated in Scribus, one by one, to the new font. It’s making some rather tedious going, but I’ve learned some important things about fonts and book design. Hopefully that’s worth the effort.

What I Like About Publishing eBooks (and What I Don’t)

They are the trend, aren’t they? Electronic books. Cheaper to buy and easier to carry around. I understand why consumers like them. Personally, I don’t think anything is better than a real live book in my hands, but that’s a debate about personal choice. As a writer and independent publisher, my likes and dislikes about eBooks shift a bit. They’re more about the things that go on behind the screen.

What I like best about publishing eBooks is that they can be updated. This is useful on several levels. For example, there’s nothing worse than finally getting a book in print, one that you’ve labored over, checked and re-checked, only to find errors. And there’s nothing you can do about it. With an eBook, the errors can be corrected and a new file uploaded to replace the old. No new ISBN or ASIN required. Simple as that.

This is also useful for promoting newer books. In my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, for example. With every new volume, I can update the previous eBooks and include a link to newer works.

Along those lines I can let new readers get a sample of me and my writing by offering books for free, say the first in a series. I’ve done just that with my how-to series, offering volume one for free. Hopefully they like it well enough to be willing to buy more of my work. If they don’t, then they haven’t lost a dime.

So what don’t I like about publishing eBooks? The first thing is that they are difficult to make pretty. They are ugly. Not the covers, but the interiors. Formatting options are limited because different eReaders render the book differently, so the rules to formatting are set and with little aesthetic leeway. I don’t like it that I can’t compose my text and white space to suit myself. On top of that, different eBook conversion software produces different results, which compounds the problem of creating a pretty page. I’ve tried several services and now stick with only two because the results are more acceptable.

Images and diagrams are a problem in eBooks, and avid readers agree that this type of book is not very picture friendly. For one thing, the screen is relatively small, although some eReaders have zoom type features. From the publishing end, images seem less predictable than I’d like. The image in the file I upload may end up larger or smaller than I aimed for.

I don’t like that I can’t make tables. In some of my how-tos, tables would be a helpful way to visually organize data. I end up having to type it all out in a line with commas or hyphens, which isn’t very “at a glance.”

The other thing I don’t like is that eBooks have a sense of temporariness about them. If my device breaks or my computer dies, they’re lost. If I don’t have electricity or battery power, I can’t read. Expiration dates can be added when the book files are converted to the various formats so that the books can be automatically deleted. As an author it’s unsettling to think that all of my hard work could simply disappear from the face of the earth.

I suppose it could be said that eBook are here to stay. Maybe. Likely they will change somewhat. However, print books don’t seem to be going anywhere soon either, which is also good. I suppose the best way to look at it is that in the realm of books, there’s something for everybody. As a publisher, I just have to learn to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.

Contemplating Front & Back Matter

I suppose it could be said that I’m making too much of this, considering that much of what goes in the front and back of a book is pretty well set. Some things seem traditional in position, such as half-title page, title page, copyright page, etc. Backs of books usually contain a bibliography, resource list, and index. Other things such as acknowledgements, the author’s other works, or “about the author” seem more random in placement. If I’m putting it all together myself, that means making decisions.

One goal in my book designs is that they look as professional as possible. With the rise in indie publishing some excellent books are being made available, but I’ve noticed that not all books are presented well. The content may be well-written and have something important to say, but too often these good books fall down because of design and formatting. This especially seems to be a problem for those going from print to eBook or vice versa. Maybe it’s my old art major background, but I find myself spending a lot of time trying to create an aesthetic presentation, not just good content.

There are lots of how-tos websites and articles regarding front and back matter on the internet, although not all of them seem to be complete and helpful. One thing I’ve taken to doing is to look at recently published books from established publishing houses. How do they format? Where do they put things? What’s on their copyright pages? How do they set up content? I think this has helped a lot.

Two items I’ve pondered for Critter Tales are placement of “Acknowledgements” and “About The Author”. I suppose that seems silly to worry about, but I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide. Acknowledgements are traditionally placed at the front of the book, but many newer publications place them in the back. A blurb about t author can go either on the back cover, dust jacket, or in the back of the book. If in back, where’s the best spot? Right after the conclusion? Before the index? After?

After much deliberation(!), here’s what I’ve decided.

Front Matter

  • i. half-title page
  • ii. also by
  • iii. title page
  • iv. copyright
  • v. dedication
  • vi. blank
  • vii – ix. table of contents
  • x. acknowledgements
  • 1. introduction

The lower case Roman numerals indicate front matter, i.e. everything before the actual content of the book. Page i is the right-hand page immediately after the cover. Right-hand pages are odd numbers, left-hand are even numbers. The half-title page contains simply the “short” main title. The full title page contains main title plus subtitle, also author and publisher. I like my main sections of the book (contents, chapters, etc.) to be on the right-hand page. I don’t mind the facing left-hand page being blank. I think this gives a more formal, traditional look to a book. Many books now simply put whatever’s next on the next page, left or right, with no blank pages. I suppose it does save on a sheet or two of paper.

Back Matter (sometimes called End Matter)

  • End Notes / Bibliography (not sure if I need both)
  • Resources
  • About the author
  • Index

In 5 Acres & A Dream The Book I put the “about the author” on the back cover. I have something different in mind this time, so I decided to put it right before the index. Personally, I like the index to be at the very end of the book.

I don’t know if all of this has been much ado about nothing, but I think it’s the little things that make a difference. Attention to all details (or not) contribute to a quality product (or not). Now that that’s decided, I can go on to figuring other things out.