Monday, July 25, 2011

Blog And Website Consolidated

As the launch of King of Paine approaches, I concluded that my website needed a facelift. I converted from a clumsy Microsoft FrontPage98 site to a sleeker Wordpress version, which will now do double duty as the host for my blog. I was able to transfer posts and comments over to the new site, and I hope you will bookmark my website and continue to check in from time to time. The address is I've added a couple of promotions and some fun "Reader Extras": "Getting Inside The Mind Of A Madman," an interview with me and Frank Paine, the star of King of Paine; an interview from 2000 in connection with the launch of The Jinx; a historical summary of the 20-Year Jinx; and the full text of one of my favorite reviews of The Jinx, by a guy who "got" everything I was trying to say.

Thanks for following!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Deficits, Taxes & Shared Pain

I'm not an economist, but I played one in college--well enough to know that if you put 100 economists in a room, you'll get at least a dozen inconsistent theories (and the makings for a really exciting cocktail party!). I believe there is no economic basis for choosing between spending cuts and tax increases. As Matt Dowd pointed out on This Week today, there is no empirical evidence for favoring either. Any hit to economic growth will occur as a result of eliminating debt financing itself, regardless of the source of deficit reduction. The real issue is purely political: who will bear the inevitable pain and when? If we don't deal with the deficit now, the pain will be deeper and more widespread when America's financiers ratchet up rates and the federal low-interest debt bubble bursts.

I could rail forever about these issues, but I will keep my main points brief:

1. Tying deficit reduction to the debt ceiling is stupid. I don't even know why the debt ceiling exists. The need to borrow inevitably flows from a failure to collect enough revenue to pay approved expenses. There should not be a second vote required to pay the bills after the government has already approved the expense in the annual budget. The Republicans' use of the solvency of the United States of America to extort fiscal policy initiatives they could not pass during budget negotiations should be a criminal offense.

2. The federal government must find a more mature way to compromise now to achieve the deficit reduction everybody agrees must occur. We are borrowing money at zero interest to finance current expenses, but unless we magically return to a budget surplus, that debt will have to be refinanced in the future, inevitably at higher interest rates. We are building a federal debt bubble that is exactly like the home mortgage bubble. The Fed is creating a gigantic adjustable-rate mortgage on America's future, and when China and Japan insist on higher rates, the bubble will explode. The United States will not default; it will use powers no homeowner has in his arsenal: the government will either raise taxes dramatically or print money, triggering massive inflation. Inflation is the equivalent of a tax on wealth, and Americans' real net worth will plummet. So take the pain now and cut the deficit, or take the pain later through massive inflation. There will be pain.

3. The only real deficit reduction question is who will bear the pain, and the obvious answer is everybody. Whether senior citizens have to pay more out of pocket to cover their medical care or basic needs or higher income Americans pay more taxes, that money will be removed from the economy and is likely to have similar impact on economic growth. Intuitively, it seems to me that there would be a greater impact from taking money away from poor and middle class people because they would surely have spent the money, whereas the wealthy are more likely to stash it in a savings account where it won't stimulate any growth (especially when banks are afraid to lend). (I never understood the argument that taxing a doctor, lawyer, major league athlete or pop star at 39% instead of 35% would somehow impair job creation.)

But even if we assume every dollar has the same impact on economic growth, there is no difference between a domestic spending cut and a tax increase. The decision is pure political jockeying among representatives of different interest groups, the rich, the middle class, the poor, and the elderly. My thoughts on wealth distribution have been documented in a prior post: Wealth Distribution, The Law of the Jungle, & Seeds of Revolution. But in the spirit of compromise, surely any reasonable solution will include some combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

4. Republicans are saying President Obama has not presented a specific plan. Well, presenting the specifics would be kind of pointless when the Republican position has been that they will not compromise no matter what details are presented. That said, the President supports the report of the bipartisan deficit reduction panel (Erskine-Bowles) which presents numerous options to choose from to reach different levels of deficit reduction. When the Republicans show up ready to compromise on taxes, both sides can pick their pain right off the Erskine-Bowles menu. If they don't compromise, the massive inflation triggered by the bursting of the debt bubble in a few years will destroy all that wealth they're protecting so vehemently, anyway.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Self-publisher Sells 1 Million Kindle Books--Now What?

Follow the link below to Mike Shatzkin's blog about John  Locke's options after being the first self-publisher to sell one million Kindle books. The debate in the commentary between Shatzkin and Joe Konrath, another astonishingly successful self-publisher of fiction, is worth a read by anyone interested in the future of the publishing industry.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tax Hike!!!!

My wife, Ellie, and I watch the Sunday morning news shows religiously each week. We usually remain fairly civil, even in the privacy of our own living room, but nobody brings out the wrath of the Kahns like Mitch McConnell, who was interviewed on This Week today. No matter how many times or how aggressively that man is asked to state what the Republicans are willing to give up to compromise on a deficit reduction solution, he refuses to budge on raising revenues, decrying any "tax hike" as inconsistent with economic growth.
Let's get real here, people. If we cut the deficit, some class of citizens will bear the burden of the cuts, whether through increased taxes or increased payments for vital services formerly subsidized by the government. There will be a hit to economic growth either way. The debate is not over how much pain there will be--politicians seem to agree on the general parameters of the deficit cuts--it is over who will bear it.

The bipartisan deficit reduction panel came up with recommendations that provided a fairly reasonable balance between spending cuts and revenue increases. The Democrats have embraced this compromise and are negotiating how cuts in Medicare and Social Security can most fairly be delivered. They will probably agree to some form of means testing and/or deferral of eligibility. As a result, elderly middle class and wealthy citizens will be required to reach into their pockets and spend their own wealth on what used to be subsidized by the government, whether to pay health insurance premiums or retirement expenses. How is that any different than an increase in taxes on the elderly?

Yet Senator McConnell continues to repeat the idiotic mantra "what we have is a spending problem, not a revenue problem." Actually, Mitch, what we have is a mismatch between spending and revenues. That mismatch can be erased by cutting spending, increasing revenues, or--here's an idea--some reasonable combination of both.

Let's take the political slogans out of this deficit crisis and approach the problem honestly and reasonably. The compromises are not hard to find if we agree that we need to come up with $4 trillion and that we all need to bear some pain.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Designing Your Print Book Interior

My e-book version of KING OF PAINE is now proofread and substantially complete. The extra proofreading run on my Nook was well worth the time, as I discovered over a dozen minor errors (one proof resistant typo, added an extra 't' in 'Scarlet,' failed to capitalize 'Social Security' (twice!) and miscellaneous formatting issues because of the small screens on e-readers). When I'm ready to put the book online, all I need to do is create separate versions for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords (minor differences in front matter). As promised, here are links to the pages on those sites that provide instructions for preparing and submitting your files:

While I hope readers will join the e-book revolution and buy my low-priced e-book online, I understand there will always be a market for print books. Accordingly, I plan to publish a trade paperback edition of KING OF PAINE using print on demand technology. There are three ways to take advantage of POD to avoid inventory management problems:

1. Design your own book and purchase inventory from a printer like Lightning Press and arrange your own distribution. You can buy books in modest volumes as needed, but you'll have to establish relationships with the major wholesalers (Ingram and Baker & Taylor at a minimum) if you want bookstores and libraries to be able to order your books. The online booksellers will be able to order from the wholesalers, too, or you can set up a direct relationship. You'll have to pay for shipping and deal with returns (the book biz operates on a consignment model). The good news is that you can create your own imprint and operate as an independent small press, potentially opening up opportunities for mainstream reviews, book clubs, etc., if your the type who dares to dream.

2. Publish your book through a full-service company that designs your book for a fee and offers sales, distribution and marketing assistance at extra cost (like iUniverse). I think these services are too pricy, and the publishing industry views them as vanity presses. They operate on a business model that maximizes profits by churning out a high volume of titles and is not so concerned about selling a high volume of each title. But people use them, so they must have redeeming qualities. Research them at your own peril.

3. Design your own book and publish/distribute at lower cost through a company that offers a no-frills option for experienced hands as well as an array of services for novices (like Amazon's CreateSpace and Lulu). These services allow you to publish under your own imprint or theirs, the main differences being (1) the higher cost of obtaining your own ISBN's from Bowker, and (2) the better optics to the book industry of appearing independent. At least at CreateSpace, for some reason you need to use their ISBN's to take advantage of their expanded distribution service to libraries. You have the option of using their distribution channels and receiving residual royalties after subtracing production costs plus distributor discount or buying books and selling them yourself. The production cost of my book at CreateSpace would be $5.21 per copy. Distribution discounts run up to 60% of the retail price, so I'd have to price above $13 to earn any royalties. Online retailers would probably discount.  

I'm a hands-on type of guy, so I decided to teach myself how to design a book. Yesterday, I put in a solid 15-hour day and completed the interior design for KING OF PAINE. Next up will be tweaking my cover to fit it to a 6x9 trade paperback (my work with my graphic artist colleague so far has focused on creating the e-book cover). I'll report on my cover design efforts in a later post. Today I'll walk you through the interior design.

My starting point was my clean, proofread Word DOC file that I created for the e-book version. It was formatted using Styles and Formatting, primarily the "Normal" style, which was single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 pt, with .2" first line indents (I changed it from .25" while modifying my file for e-readers). Chapter headings were spelled out (e.g., "Chapter One") and formatted using a Header style: Times New Roman 24 pt., bold, italic, centered, no indent. A few pages of front matter were uniquely formatted.

The first thing I did was set my margins and page size for trade paperback settings. Then, by using Styles and Formats, I was able to experiment with several different looks for the finished book simply by modifying the Normal style. Changes automatically carry through the entire document and can easily be reversed. I tried a few different fonts (Garamond, Bookman, Palatino), but settled on Georgia (it was on my mind). I ran a draft at 11 pt. with a 13.5 leading (instead of single space), but liked the look better at 10 pt (and saved about 30 cents per unit of printing cost by dropping my page count). More on this in a minute because I did a few other tasks before settling on the smaller font (big mistake).

I converted my chapter headings next, deleting the word "Chapter" and adding section breaks at the end of each chapter. I also changed the font to Georgia and removed the bold from the style. It's good to use "chapter" in your ebook formatting because many e-readers look for it in creating a table of contents for navigation, but I like the cleaner look without it for print. The section breaks are necessary to supress headers and footers on the first page of each chapter. It was the first time I used sections in Word, and there was a learning curve.

Footers were easy--I don't use them. The headers turned out to be tricky for the uninitiated. My basic scheme wasn't complicated--no headers on the first page of each chapter, page numbers on the outside corner of each page (left corner on even pages, right corner on odd), author name centered on even pages, title centered on odd. The problem arose when I tried to suppress the headers in my front matter. The solution turned out to be relatively simple, but it took me over an hour to figure it out. I'll spare you the details of failed workarounds and just note the right way to do it. Sections flow from back to front. The default setting is for the headers in each section to be the "same as previous" headers, i.e., those that come from later chapters. There's a button on the header/footer toolbar that pops up when you're viewing headers and footers called "same as previous." I clicked that button for all headers in section 1 (front matter) and 2 (chapter 1), which de-linked them from other sections, allowing me to customize headers in the front matter (i.e., use none).

Headers weren't the only hurdle on my learning curve. I made a few mistakes that cost me quite a bit of time, which I won't do again, and now you won't have to, either. After I got comfortable with my 11 pt. draft, I made two sets of time-consuming changes which I later had to undo and repeat when I switched to 10 pt.

Most printed books are justified. Justification creates some occasional ugliness (gaps mid-line) which can usually be corrected manually by breaking up long words in neighboring lines with hyphens. You should hold off on doing this until all other formatting is complete. I didn't get all the way through the draft before I got wise, but when I switched to the smaller font I had to search for all my new hyphens and delete them, which was quite tedious because I had to slog through all the normal hyphens, too. Argh!

The second gaffe was adding a nice drop cap to the first letter of each chapter (76 of them). It looked pretty. But then when I switched from 11pt to 10pt font, the drop cap didn't adjust and was just a hair off (I needed 31pt vs. 32pt). Maybe I could have left it, but I obsess over these things. It took me over an hour to undo the original drop caps and replace them anew. Don't do that.

Here's a link to my style sheet for KING OF PAINE, which provides complete settings for my 6x9 trade paperback. Experiment with different style settings for fun, but this will give you something to start with to make the task less daunting. You can save a few hundred bucks, and it's fun creating your own book once you get the hang of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Converting a Word File to E-book Format

In yesterday's post, I chronicled how I cleaned up the manuscript for KING OF PAINE in preparation for e-book publication. In this one I'll show you how I converted the document to e-book format for free.

I should note that you can take your Word document file and have it converted for you at, using their Meatgrinder technology. Besides offering ebooks in all formats directly on their own site, Smashwords also offers distribution to many other online booksellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and SONY, among others. You can opt out of distribution to any particular bookseller if you prefer to upload your title for sale directly. Each bookseller has their own procedure for file conversion and uploading. Each one also has slightly different preferences for front matter and links, etc.

I prefer to convert my file to various ebook formats myself for a couple of reasons. First, I don't want to upload my file for sale unless I'm sure it's going to look great. I like to convert to EPUB and MOBI format first and review the output on my Nook and in Amazon's free Kindle for PC software. That way I can make tweaks without going through a lengthy online reconversion process and without worrying that someone may download an error-ridden version while I'm proofing and reconverting. Second, I want to coordinate my online and print publication dates, and converting to e-book format allows me to confirm my formatting is clean before creating a print version. Doing repetitive error corrections on multiple versions of a document is a waste of time. Finally, I can share my e-book with my final beta readers or, if lucky, prepublication reviewers, before going live online.

The first step is to convert the Word file into html format. Click on "File," then "Save As..." and then change the "Save As Type" in the pop-up window to "Web Page, Filtered." (When I converted THE JINX a couple of months ago I didn't know to use the "Filtered" format, and the result was a mess that I wasted a day fiddling with.) I like to do a quick scroll through the html document to look for obvious formatting errors. I found three yesterday and corrected them in the original DOC file, then reconverted. For a compulsive legal type, that was an hour well spent.

The next step is to obtain conversion software. I use the Calibre ebook management software, which is open source and can be downloaded free at

After opening the Calibre program, I clicked "Add Books" at the top left. A "Select books" window appeared, and I navigated to the HTML file I had created for KING OF PAINE and stored on my hard drive. The software took a couple of minutes to load the file.

I then clicked on the next button at the top, "Edit Metadata." This is where you can add author and title information, a cover image, and a description. Click "OK" at the bottom left when finished.

Then I selected "Convert Books" from the top row of buttons. There are many options that can be varied using the tools on the left panel, but I just used the defaults. The only setting I use is at the top right, "Output Format."  You can choose EPUB (B&N, Apple, most e-readers), MOBI (Kindle), PDF, among other formats. I selected EPUB and then hit "OK" on the bottom right. The file converted in less than a minute. I ran "Convert Books" again to create a version in MOBI format.

After the conversions were completed, I made sure KING OF PAINE was selected in the main window and then clicked "Save To Disk" at the top. A pop-up window allowed me to choose a destination for the files, which were saved in multiple formats in a folder with the author name.

I did a quick formatting check in my e-reading software (see my earlier post on free e-readers for the PC if you don't have a standalone e-reader), which quickly disclosed a few glitches in the way I had formatted the front matter. I also didn't like the way some one-off indenting looked in the e-reader and realized I had selected too many words to include in ALL CAPS at the beginnings of several chapters. I quickly made changes in my original, re-saved my HTML version, and re-ran Calibre.

I will spend some time over the next few days reading my revised version more carefully on my Nook for sentence level formatting errors (for example, lost italics or bold). It will also serve as one last proofread before I set out to format the book for the print version. In my next post, I'll jump ahead and briefly show you how to upload an e-book to a few key online distributors/booksellers.

Friday, June 3, 2011

How To Publish Your Own Book At Zero Cost

 In an earlier post, I wrote about the wealth of free and cheap material available for readers. Starting today, I'm going to show you how you can publish your own material--a novel, memoir, short stories, poems, cookbook, how-to book, family history, or whatever--at little or no cost. I'll do that by describing exactly what I do to take KING OF PAINE from finished manuscript to e-book and trade paperback.

Over the past ten years the barriers to becoming a published author have been breaking down. When Redfield Publishers, an imprint formed by my wife and I, published THE JINX in 2000, on-demand publishing was in its infancy, and the poor quality of the output made it an unattractive option. We worked with a top quality graphics designer, Rivanne Advertising, and book printer, Maple-Vail, to produce a hardcover book with jacket. We did an initial print run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $5 per book. When that sold out within a couple of months, we ordered a second run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $4 per book (lower cost  because we used most of the same plates). Unfortunately, though, the publishing model works on a consignment basis, and returns from the big box bookstores began to come in at about the same pace as new orders, so we were left sitting with a large inventory of books when THE JINX ran through its six-month shelf life.

Today, if you're a hands on computer user--not necessarily a desktop publishing whiz--you can create an e-book at low cost (you might want to shell out a little cash for a professionally designed book cover). With a little more perseverance and work you can even have your book printed on-demand for free (the print service takes its fees out of gross proceeds from sales), with no minimum purchase requirement--so no inventory! Marketing a self-published work is a topic I'll cover in a later post (and no small problem, although marketing a commercially published book is not much easier).

Your first step is to produce a first-rate manuscript, thoroughly edited and proofread. It should be in Microsoft Word file format. The 106,000-word manuscript for KING OF PAINE came in at about 425 double-spaced pages. It contained only a title page and the story, with traditional headers and footers.

It took me less than eight hours yesterday to reformat the manuscript for e-book conversion. Here are the steps I took, most of which were gleaned from The Smashwords  Style Guide, a free publication:

1. I deleted the title page and added traditional front and back matter--(a) praise for my first novel, THE JINX, (b) title page with the book name and byline, (c) copyright page, (d) dedication, (e) author bio, and (f) acknowledgments. I did not worry about formatting yet.

2. I searched for formatting glitches that would not be visible in a typical proofreading session. Some of these modifications are good practice for preparing a manuscript for any form of publication, others are more important for e-book conversion because e-readers can create unexpected (and ugly) results if the format isn't perfect.

            a. The first "find and replace" I did was for extra spaces. I do this by entering two spaces in the "find" field and one space in the "replace" field. This will still leave you with multiple spaces if you have more than two to begin with, so after the first "replace all" you might want to just do a "find" for extra spaces to see why they're still there. You might have used the spacebar for formatting, a definite no-no.

            b. I did a similar drill for extra paragraph marks. You generally should not use extra paragraph marks (the "enter" key) to format text. Don't separate paragraphs with an extra line. We'll use the space before and after functions in Format/Paragraph to align text when we get to formatting.

            c. I went to Format/Autoformat/Options and turned off everything except replace straight quotes with smart quotes. Then I ran Autoformat. Smart quotes look better.

            d. I searched for three periods and replaced each one with ellipses. E-readers can produce irregular formatting if they find multiple periods. There may be an automated way to do this in more modern versions of Word, but in my version I replaced each one by hand with Insert/Symbols/Special Characters. (If you use autoformat when typing, most of the time you enter three periods, Word will automatically convert to ellipses.)

            e. I searched for two hyphens and auto-replaced with an em dash.

            f. I removed all tabs. E-readers hate tabs. We'll use Paragraph/Indent to format normal paragraphs. I had to figure out a work-around for a special format I had used to emulate instant messaging conversations. The work-around actually looked better, even in print. More on this below.

            g. I removed all headers and footers.

3. After I was comfortable that my electronic text was pristine, I reformatted the entire manuscript using Format/Styles and Formatting. I knew I would have to go back and alter the format of front and back matter and chapter headers (and possibly unique to me, the special IM format), but to me it was easier than going through the text page by page and choosing how to format each paragraph.

            a. I opened Format/Styles and Formatting and modified the "Normal" style. I chose Times New Roman font, 12 point, Left Alignment (don't Justify), Indent, First Line .25" (instead of using tabs to paragraph), Line Spacing: single. I removed widow/orphan protection and all other functions that were already defined in Normal.

            b. I tested how "Normal" would work on a paragraph that had special font effects, like bold and italics. Make sure your version of Word is configured to preserve these effects when you apply a style.

            c. I did an Edit/Select All and applied the Normal style to the entire document.

            d. Next, I went to work on formatting my chapter headings. I decided to spell out the chapter numbers, so I typed those in by hand on a first pass (using Edit/Find to quickly get me to each "Chapter"). Then I created a new style called "Heading, Chapter." It was based on Normal, but changed the font size to 14 pt., Center Alignment, Bold and Italics, Indent, first line 0", Space Before: 18pt, Space After 18 pt. On the next pass through the document, I inserted a manual page break (Control/Enter) at the end of each chapter and then applied the new Heading, Chapter style to the next chapter heading.

            e. As a matter of personal taste, I changed the case of the first few words in each chapter to uppercase. A bold drop cap looks good in a print version, but some e-distributors won't accept them in an e-book.

            f. I created a new style for my IM format and applied it where necessary. This took a lot of time for me, but you will not have to deal with it if you keep away from unusual formatting.

            g. On my next pass, I created a new style "Asterisk Break" which I used to separate paragraphs in the text where I had a sharp break in the setting or point of view. I typed in three asterisks separated by a single space and then applied the style (no first line indent, centered, 6pt space before and after).

            h. Finally, I reformatted the front and back matter to my taste.

4. I skimmed through the reformatted document and looked for obvious errors, then ran Spellchecker.

I'm starting work today with a clean, well-formatted document that's probably ready for conversion to e-book format. I'll review The Smashwords Style Guide one more time to see if I forgot anything (I haven't reread it since I converted THE JINX a couple of months ago). Then I'll convert my file and tell you how I did it in tomorrow's post.

I also already have a book cover image, which I will include in my e-book. I worked with one of the members of my writers group, Michael Mollick, to produce the image you see in the right column here. I worked out a barter arrangement with Michael, a professional designer, but you can make your own for free or hire someone for a modest investment. If you want to market your book, a well-designed cover is an important tool.