Self-Publishing Tools (and Fools)

Since I feel like insulting someone right off the bat, I’ll start with me: the central self-publishing fool in this post is me, seen in the “fool me once, fool me twice” adage. I’ve published a number of books, so I should already know that the only straight lines in the process are the angled crooked ones. And I already knew that writing and publishing a book are separate and unequal tasks regards marketing a book, but I unworkably squooged those processes together for my latest book.

That’s Sticky Fingers, Confessions of a Marginally Repentant Shoplifter, starring me (well, the criminal high-school version of me). I wrote that book early in the pandemic, so we can agree it’s the product of a diseased mind. Before I ported it to Word, I wrote the book in Scrivener, which has splendid move-this-chapter-here-then-move-it-there tools, along with excellent note-taking and URL research storage and access,

Sticky went through a couple of professional edits, and a dandy cover design, detailed on this WriterUnboxed post. Those measures were expensive, so I decided to format the print version myself, using a snappy Word template downloaded from The Book Designer, again, a process I’d done before. Here’s where Sticky became sticky:

Rather than be exclusive to Amazon, I wanted to go “wide,” meaning broader distribution of the book to other markets. So I had to edit different HTML versions for Amazon and for Draft2Digital, with differing in-book links (Amazon hates when you link out to other retailers), and with slightly different front- and back-matter pages.

HTML Mini-hell

I’m no coder, but I can plunk slowly along, which I did, using the free HTML/ebook publishing tools, Calibre and Sigil. Plunk I did, because each of the online and download previewers at Amazon and Draft showed me little, niggling problems, and I do dislike being niggled.

And then I had a puzzling exchange with Amazon, who emailed me to tell me that something about my ISBN info from Bowker wasn’t right, but they couldn’t tell me specifically about it in an email, and that I had to call them instead. Turns out I forgot the subtitle colon in my Bowker version of the title, and had to add it there. Why I had to call Amazon for that remains a mystery.

And after Amazon had long approved of the cover I submitted, my “final” upload of the approved print manuscript with the approved cover didn’t meet their specs. Though it did before. So I had to have it adjusted by the cover designer, again, and it was accepted. My goodness. Something odd is also going on with the IngramSpark print distribution setup too, which I’ve had multiple email exchanges with them about, all over confusion over my various email addresses, nothing to do with the book—hope to hear the resolution today.

Pre-order Freebies

The upshot of all this head-scratching is, Sticky Fingers is available for pre-sale now, with fulfillment on July 21, chosen because that would have been my mom’s 100th birthday.

The pre-sale deal is this: if you send me a purchase receipt between now and July 21st, I’ll send you a link to download a free ebook or PDF version of my book, Flowering and Other Stories (which does have one story about teenage shoplifting, which won the National Steinbeck Center’s story contest in 1999). The free download will suggest you subscribe to my newsletter.

If subscribing’s not your order of pizza, just let me know, and I’ll send you the short story book directly. (By the way, that download delivery tool is from StoryOrigin, which has a lot of writer promotional tools, not being fools.)

The ebook versions of the memoir are available for pre-sale on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble,  Kobo and some other online retailers. Let me know if you like it!

Stay safe out there—the world seems to be getting weirder and weirder, and not in the good weird way.

Linking for Thinking

The eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life
“The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness.”

How to Improve Your Happiness, According to Science
“Happiness, experts say, means accepting negative experiences, and having the skills to manage and cope with them, and to use them to make better decisions later.”

Feeling Stuck? Try Improving Your Productivity
“The pursuit of happiness is doomed to failure. One of the most obvious ways joy arises within human beings is when we create something. When we spend time on something and actually finish it, we get a sense of accomplishment and inner satisfaction. A feeling of joy that’s different from lying on the beach.”

The Perks of Being a Hot Mess
“It is a well-studied phenomenon in psychology that if a person is healthy and normal—not a narcissist or a sociopath—she tends to focus more on her worst characteristics than her best.

How To Become More Disciplined In Just Five Minutes Per Day
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

Shakespeare Didn’t Use Scrivener—Why Should I?

A short story, zygote phase

Well, let’s dispatch with the title question first: I’m not Shakespeare. No, no, don’t try to soothe my oozing writer’s wounds, I can take it. Aside from that ounce of obviousness, there’s this: no coders had the sense to put together Scrivener in Shakespeare’s day—in fact, his choices of apps (basically a quill pen and maybe some foolscap) were pretty bare bones. He didn’t do too badly with them, though.

But I think if good Will had access to the program, he would have found lots to like in its flexibility in shifting and sorting blocks of text, storing character descriptions and synopses, organizing scenes into relationships, and having a repository of reference materials like links and images. Willie would probably like being able to export to ebook formats too: King Lear would make a Kindle’s screen crack with its stormy scenes.

I’ve only been using the program a couple of days (and no, I’m not pimping any affiliate marketing here), so I won’t go deeply into its considerable feature package. But just in playing with it a bit, let’s look at it from a benefits standpoint: When you are composing long or complex documents, many are the times you want to bring up a specific section of  text for comparison and verification with another—say to ensure that you had a character’s age set in an early phase of an novel, and wanted to confirm that correct age in a later instance. It’s a cinch to bring up disparate parts of a long document side-by-side in Scrivener.

Speaking of characters, if you’re the kind of writer who builds a detailed profile of a character in a background document, the database structure of Scrivener means you can bring up a character study in a moment to review it against how you’ve rendered a character’s behavior in a scene. You can change the character’s profile, or change the scene or both. The Reference areas of the application lend themselves to the storage of URLs, images and data snippets relevant to the project. And if you were midway through a project started in another word processor or text editor, importing is easy, as is exporting back out, including some nifty formatting tools.

Why Now, Oh Scrivener?

I’ve written a couple of novels and a book of short stories without bothering to use a tool like Scrivener—why now? A couple of reasons: first, I’d heard great word-of-mouth report from writers who delighted in the program. But are those the ravings of people who just want to geek out with slick software, and not pointed to the ultimate outcome, the writing itself? I’ll find out.

I moved to the software because the new novel I’m going to work on will be an interconnected series of short stories, all intended to have a thematic coherency. A program like Scrivener, which lets you jump back and forth through long skeins of text, move and merge elements around in a jiffy, and organize and edit lots of contributive character and scene data is perfect for the work I envision. If only it would do the writing for me.

But the seed of the story that’s caught in the image above isn’t part of that novel. It’s a short story that I’ve thought about writing for a while, and I finally figured out the point-of-view and voice of the piece, and decided that I want to jump back and forth from past to present through the story. Those jumps and scene snatchings will be a perfect test for a longer Scrivener project.

So, any Scrivener users among you wordsmiths out there? Thoughts? And as for that Shakespeare guy: Mac or PC?