E-books and tools.

ereaderstabletsI’ve been learning a few tricks about sharing books electronically (sometimes called “self-publishing”), so I thought I would post some of the techniques I’ve found. These tips are extremely basic — most self-publishing authors will undoubtedly consider them kindergarten level. But after figuring out these steps, I wanted a place to record them for my own reference. The goal of my research was to find the easiest way to get a book into the hands of friends and family. I’ll try to update this post over the months as I learn more. But for now, we’ll start with the basics. (Note: This post does not include instructions for submitting a book to the online stores like Amazon, etc. That will come later. For now I just want to distribute my book manually and freely.)

Sharing the book the useless way.

The first time I sent out some sample chapters to people, I sent it as a .pdf document. That may be the best way to share business documents at the office, but it’s a terrible format for a book. Sharing it as an MS Word document (.docx) is just as bad. Both of these formats essentially lock the readers to their desktop machine, which is hardly amenable to an immersive literary experience! I’m not surprised that nobody ever provided any feedback from that approach.

For my next “mini-release” I plan to provide the book in formats that most readers are more comfortable with: eBooks. This will allow them to read it on virtually any device they own, including their iPads and Kindles. So many people own mobile devices these days, many of which designed specifically for reading. The eBook format employs what is known as “flowable” text, which allows the pages to fit nicely on whatever sized device you are using.

However, eBooks come in different flavors, so I will describe the process for each type separately:

Sharing a book for iOS devices (iPad, etc).

This is the easy one. Nearly every iPad and iPhone have built-in readers for standard eBooks. Which means they can read any book that is in the “ePub” format. So the first step is converting your text (the Word document or .txt file, or whatever you authored in) to ePub. One popular way to do this is to use the free Calibre software. I have used Calibre briefly, and it does seem great, but in my particular case there is an even easier method. As I mentioned in an early post, I chose to author my book using Google Docs. And, as it turns out, the nice folks at Google have just recently (in fact, just last month) added ePub as one of their new export formats!  Two clicks and I’m done! (“File” and “Download as…”).

Well, not exactly “done”.  I still have to get the eBook onto someone’s device. But that step is even easier. All I have to do is email the file (or provide it as a download), and anyone with an iPad or iPhone can simply click on the file in their email, and it will automatically open up in their standard eBook reader (which, for most people is iBooks). I’m really impressed and excited that this method is so easy.

Sharing a book for Kindles.

This method is slightly more difficult than the previous one, but not much. Unfortunately, Kindles don’t use the ePub format; they use Mobi instead (and Google Docs doesn’t export that format… yet.) But fortunately, there is a free software program that can do the conversion for you. As I mentioned above, it is called Calibre, and it comes highly rated by many self-publishers. And it’s easy: I downloaded Calibre, installed it on my desktop, and had my first Mobi book ready for distribution in just a few minutes. (Note: This is the method that I used and it worked. However, according to this page, there may be an easier way.)

Once the book is converted to Mobi, the next step (as with the previous method) is to get the file onto someone’s Kindle. Of course, Kindle owners can connect their device to their computer with a USB cable and upload documents that way, but that’s a pain. Fortunately, Amazon has provided an alternative method: email. Each Kindle device has its own personal email address (which you can find by logging into your Amazon account, navigating to “Manage Your Kindle“, click the “Settings” tab, then scroll down to the middle of the page under “Personal Document Settings”, or you can find it by clicking the Information icon on the Kindle itself; the address usually ends with “@kindle.com”). So all I need to do is send the document to a friend and instruct them to forward the document to their Kindle email. (IMPORTANT NOTE: This method will NOT place the book in their “BOOKS” list. They must switch over to their “DOCS” list and they will find it their instead.)

Well, that’s it for now. As I said before, I hope to update this page in the future as I learn more.

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Character Development

Character sketches

I just finished chapter 6, and I am quite pleased with it. The ending was not at all what I thought it would be when I started the chapter, and it actually scares me just a little. As a matter of fact, I really wrote myself into a corner with this one, and  I have no idea how I’m going to get my characters out of it! But that’s what the best stories are all about, right?

What is fun is that I am learning more about the characters as I go along. And it turns out that this “character development” thing is beginning to take me down unexpected paths. I’ve always heard about authors “listening” to their characters, and “letting the characters reveal themselves” and other nonsense like that. Only now, I’m starting to see that it isn’t exactly nonsense. I came into this project with a fairly clear picture of what each of the characters is like — their back-story, their personalities, their quirks. But as I write, and as I try to put myself into their shoes in each particular situation, I’m finding that the characters are starting to develop in ways that surprise even me! Even though I’m the author, I find the characters doing things and saying things that I didn’t anticipate — and the result is that they are beginning to take on a texture and complexity that I didn’t know they had at first.

And it makes me like them even more.

Which makes me wonder about my own “character development”, and — even more importantly — that of my children. I’d say I know my kids pretty well. I’ve been studying them for years, after all. But, it goes without saying that they are certainly not cookie-cutter copies of me, by any means. I have some strongly-developed ideas of who I want them to be and what I want them to do in life, but the reality is that they are their own people (obviously). And because of that, I am starting to get more comfortable with the idea of them choosing their own way. (Well, not for the little ones so much. They have to go pretty much exactly where I want them to go for now.) But as for the teens, they are starting to figure out their own selves now. And — as uncomfortable as it makes me feel to watch them stretch out their independence — I’m finding it more and more enjoyable to watch the full-fledged person that is blossoming out of those chrysalises. It surprises me sometimes, but it turns out that I have some beautiful butterflies emerging here. They are beginning to take on a texture and complexity that I never knew they had.

And it makes me like them even more.

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Plodding on

crumpled paperChapter five has been the hardest one yet. I’ve spent nearly two weeks on one single page of text, and I feel like maybe I’m about half-way done with it. Every night I sit down and get maybe two or three sentences written. Or re-written. Or re-re-re-written, and then deleted entirely and replaced with something even worse. Excruciating, actually; and it gets harder each time I sit down to stare at it.

It’s a pivotal scene — one that I’ve been looking forward to writing for months. It is the introduction of one my favorite characters (and Natalie’s), and we really want him to have a grand and unforgettable entry. But I had no idea it was going to be so challenging. I want the scene to be mysterious at first, and then captivating, and then just super fun — the type of scene that kids might like to read over and over again. But it also has to be realistic and believable. And easy to understand without being too wordy. And funny.

Whoo boy, what a challenge.

And, with all this difficulty, I find myself asking once again: is it worth it? Is this really how I want to spend the next year of my life? torturing myself with word-smithing and story-wrangling and keyboard-crunching? Why am I doing this to myself? Is this a profitable use of my time?

And yet, I am addicted. I can’t not write it. To leave this story in my head and not on paper would be even more torturous than what I am experiencing now. And so I push through. There a have been so many endeavors in my life that I have started but never completed — so many unfinished journeys. I’m bound and determined not to let this be one of them.

I am somewhat heartened to note that even Tolkien struggled mightily with writer’s block. It took him seven years to write The Hobbit, and at least 12 more to write LOTR. (Kinda makes my five month struggle look a little puny by comparison, doesn’t it?) And there were many times along the way that the outcome of Tolkien’s trilogy was doubtful. He wrote about one such episode in the Foreword to Book I:

“In spite of the darkness of the next five years [World War II] I found that the story could not now be wholly abandoned, and I plodded on, mostly by night, till I stood by Balin’s tomb in Moria. There I halted for a long while. It was almost a year later when I went on and so came to Lothlorien and the Great River late in 1941.”

And so I, too, will plod on, like the ring-bearer on his quest. Though it takes me to Mordor, I will plod on.

“And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

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My first blog about my first book.

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some voice whom one can neither resist nor understand.  (Orwell)

Am I an author? Not yet. And I never will be, unless I finish the book I am working on right now. But the reason I’m not writing my book at this particular moment is because I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know how Newton is going to reply to Chancellor, or what they’ll do after that. Simple writer’s block, obviously, but in my case the problem runs deeper. Because the real truth is that I am succumbing to the voice that is questioning whether I should be writing this book at all. Because, even though I am five chapters and five months into a 25-chapter book, I don’t know if I will ever be able to finish it. And if I do, will anyone read it? Will anyone like it? Will anyone love it? Are the jokes as funny as I thought they were when I wrote them? Is the story compelling? Or is it convoluted and confusing? What in the world got into me to make me think I could ever be a writer? to write a kids’ book, no less! I must be kidding myself!!

But yet I must press on. I will. I have to. Why? WHY?? I’ll tell you why: Because I’ve always dreamed of being an author. Because it’s too much fun (except when it’s not). Because my daughter is writing it with me (giving me all the best plot twist ideas). Because I’ve fallen in love with the characters and I really hope that someone else will love them as much as I do.  Because I’m dying to know how it will end. Because this particular book has never been written — this story has never been told — and it needs to be. It’s just crying out to be written (even if it is just a figment of my imagination). Because God is an author, and I want to be more like him.  And, if nothing else, because my great-grandchildren are just going to love reading this silly little story!

So that’s enough reasons to keep going, don’t you think?

Anyways, I decided to start chronicling my journey through this jungle of authorship. Every time I get writer’s block, I’ll post something here on this blog. I’ll journal about the excruciatingly painful difficulty of pulling a story out of thin air. I’ll complain profusely and whine unapologetically and air out all my stress and confusion. And maybe some writers out there will commiserate with me and help me to keep going — to snap out of it and get back to the book. Or at the very least, if this attempt at authorship actually drives me to an early grave, I will have left a documented trail to warn other would-be writers — to ward them off from the hazards and miseries of this Dantean nightmare.

So if you’re a glutton to read the grim and gory details of a hapless, untrained, inexperienced mountain-climber desperately trying to scale the granite cliff of ink-slinging, word-smithing and story-crafting, tune in. This ought to be quite the spectacle.

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