An Author’s Voice

The more e-books you produce for an Author, the more you become familiar with their “voice”. The words they are apt to use, the punctuation, the italics. This makes proofreading a joy and so much less stressful.

I’m doing the whole “clambake” (it used to be “enchilada” but I’m no longer in Texas, sigh) for an Author, 13 books from scan to finished e-book. Not only are her books romantic and exciting but her “voice” is very clear. That doesn’t mean “predictable” though. Every book is different with snappy dialogue, romantic scenes and races to safety or into harm. I’m starting to anticipate the flow of words, the dialogue, the emphasis. And when something isn’t right (a scanning/OCR error) then it just jumps right out at me. I know she wouldn’t use those words. I know she wouldn’t stop at this point. I know she would emphasize this phrase, I say to myself. See, it makes my job easier. And with so many books in my queue to process, I need “easier”.

So I guess my tip for today is . . . listen to the voices. Creepy, huh? But if you pay attention to the flow of words which makes up the voice, then the final product, the e-book, will be perfect, or as perfect as 3 proofing passes will make it.

Yes, I proof 2 times, sometimes 3. The first pass is a word for word read, formatting as I read. The second pass is via Word Spell/Grammar Check which catches lines with too many spaces between words, missing punctuation and misspelled words that slipped by me on the first pass. Quite often though, Word just overlooks missing periods . . . I don’t know why . . . so often I turn off (in Word Options) the paragraph return symbol and look at the doc again. That usually catches all the missing end periods. Then I look at the doc in “2 page view” from the View tab. With this view I can quickly see if all the scene changes are formatted correctly, all the paragraphs are correct (without extra para returns) and that I’ve bookmarked all the Chapter Headings and Hyperlinked all the Table of Contents.

Wow, what a ride! I love getting up in the morning because I know my day will be filled with BOOKS! And I get paid for this? What a perfect job.

I think my next blog is going to be about Bookmarks and Hyperlinks, the Whole Ugly Story.

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Raw Scans from a Formatters View

Probably most of you don’t know what a raw scan which has been run through OCR software (Optical Character Recognition) looks like.  Let me just list a few things that a proofreader has to look for:

1) Dropped punctuation, I don’t know why but it’s everywhere in a scanned book…or actually nowhere.

2) Misplaced punctuation, commas instead of periods, semi-colons instead of commas, apostrophes instead of open or closed quotes, odd little marks such as bullets.

3) Wonky words, it’s amazing what OCR “sees” when it converts your “picture” (aka PDF) into editable text, but often it’s far, far from what you actually wrote!

4) Headers and footers, these actually show up as paragraphs within your document because scanning to text only will take those headers and footers out, but not the text within them. So just delete those paragraphs.

5) Lots of misplaced paragraph returns, lots!

6) Lots of Tabs which are a no-no in e-books, but you can take them out globally with the Find/Replace function in Word.

7) Then of course you have to tweak the front matter such as copyright data and insert a Table of Contents (TOC) which you really don’t need for a novel, but readers have gotten comfortable using those “Content” buttons on their e-Readers, so keep them happy and use one. In Smashwords it has to be in the front of your e-book, but for the epub and prc (Kindle) I move it to the back of the book and it’s fine there (see my post on Forcing your TOC).

7) Lost italics! During the scan/OCR process, your italics have run away from home.  You must spend hours finding and marking the italics in your original manuscript. Then as you proof you must re-insert those italics.  If you don’t have your original book, for instance, you sent the book off to a company that just Scans/OCR but doesn’t turn the file into an e-book so they throw away the loose leaf novel after scanning…why should they keep it, they’re done with their work…you’re screwed! Hopefully you have another copy!  Anyway, it takes hours to find and mark italics and then more hours during your proof to re-insert them.  You don’t have to do that with a strict proofread…well sometimes you don’t.  Think “nuclear purge”…but I’ll go into that horrific phrase in another blog.

8) And finally graphics often creep in and are bypassed by OCR even though you tell it to convert to TEXT only.  You can remove these globally with the Find/Special/Graphics on your Home bar in Word.  Just be careful that none of your text is in Text Boxes (which are considered graphics) or those will be erased and you’ll have to physically type the text back into the doc.

I’m writing this blog because I don’t believe my clients realize that proofing their book from a scan is different than proofreading a manuscript file.  When you proofread a book (either a print or digital format) you assume that although there will be misspelled words and punctuation errors, you don’t expect wonky words, completely dropped punctuation or missplaced headers and footers (you probably want those in a book going to print).  We OCR proofreaders have to contend with so much more which greatly increases our proofing time.  I can read most novels under 300 pages in 3 or 4 hours, but it will take me 8 or more to proof an OCR document.  In fact, I scanned and proofed a Sci-Fi novel a few months ago, and it took 27 hours! for a 380 page book…small original fonts, poor paper which adds many layers of error into a scanned document…and lots of italicized words. Thankfully, the novel was very well written and had a very exciting storyline.  Got a headache but didn’t want to put a gun to my head!  A successful proof!

So I guess the moral of this story is: Authors, if you want a good proof in an e-book (from a scanned document), you should expect to pay for it.  It’s hard, mind-numbing work.  Be grateful to your proofreader.  Can you imagine what an e-book would look like from a raw scan? Yikes! Although I’ve seen some e-books which weren’t proofed after OCR. I’ve got one right now on my iPad which is full of my notes (don’t you just love the “note” and “highlight” feature!) about errors in proofing. I’m tempted to write the Author, but I think instead I’ll just use it as an object lesson for myself.  I would be mortified if one of my formatted books ended up on Kindle or anywhere else looking like that…so I’m going to make it my mission to never have one that does!  The goal is PERFECT…well, it’s a goal.

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I was skeptical about Twitter for a long time. But in the past few months I’ve found that my Author-clients use Twitter for all kinds of things…keeping in touch with other Authors, advertising contests on their blogs and websites, mentioning books that they’ve read, recommending books, marketing their own newly published books in either print or digital.  In fact, Twitter is where I find books that I want to read, as if I had a lot of time to do that, at least for recreational purposes.

My Author-clients very kindly mention me and my formatting skills often on Twitter.  When they do, I invariably get queries about my services.  I also get suggestions about adding new services like an upload service (am doing that in February), copy-editing service (am doing that now), graphic art (I’ve been creating flourishes but I think I’m also going to get into cover art…in a former life I was an archaeological illustrator and map maker, so I can handle photo manipulation).

So this is how a business in the digital age grows?  Actually so much easier than print advertising.  And you get to indulge in gossip at the same time.  Twitter, you’re my new best friend (and you can follow me @athirstymind)  Facebook, not so much, sorry.

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Forcing your TOC

I love Calibre/Sigil for constructing epub files, but what I don’t love is the Calibre generated TOC which picks up H1 and H2 Chapter Heading Styles.  I don’t like it because it forces you to use H1 and H2 heading styles, not just bookmarks, for everything that you want to include in your epub TOC.  Here’s what I do instead:

I manually contruct a TOC for every Word (e-book) file, for Smashwords the TOC is in the front of the book where their Guide suggests (?…more like demands) that it be.  But I move the TOC to the back of the epub and prc files.

For the Kindle Content (prc) format, that TOC in the back is no big deal because I build a Guide within MobiPocket Creator that “guides” the reader to the TOC no matter where it is.  BUT, in Calibre, there is no guide.  There is a Structure and TOC detector feature.  And although there is a little square in the TOC feature that suggests that if it’s checked, then Calibre will force their generated TOC onto your file (and vice versa, without checking it, your manual TOC within your document will be used)…they lie.  They force their TOC no matter what if you even touch those two screens (Structure and TOC).

To force THEM (Calibre) to use your beautifully constructed TOC instead of theirs, do this:  1) On the Structure Detection screen, erase everything…except Chapter Mark (choose None) and Remove Falce Margins (check that box).   2) Table of Contents screen, leave everything blank except the default Number of links (50) and Chapter threshold (6).  This will insure (on most files) that the epub will pick up and use YOUR manually constructed (in Word…but don’t use Word’s TOC build feature) TOC.

I’ve found that sometimes Calibre will mix up the placement though.  You’ll have all your Chapters in order, but sometimes the Excerpts and other items will be before the Chapters not after even though you have them listed in your TOC as following the Chapters.  If this doesn’t bother you, and it shouldn’t, then…there you go!  You’ve forced your own TOC.

Of course you could play by Calibre rules, and just make sure that everything that you want in your TOC has been styled H1 or H2 chapter headings…but if you’d like something to not match the style of H1 or H2 (bold, centered, italics, etc) and still be in your TOC, then you have to individually edit that entry:  For instance…”Dear Reader” letter. You want that included in your TOC, but neither the H1 or H2 style looks good.  Instead you want the “Dear Reader” line flush left with 12 pts trailing space.  You of course can edit this from your Word (paragraph) feature on the format bar (Word again).  However, sometimes an e-book will pick up on the H1/H2 style and disregard your edits and…there you are…your Reader Letter is centered/bold/18pt trailing space…not good and you won’t know it until you’ve finished building your epub/prc file.

So I would just manually construct a TOC, link each entry to a bookmarked item within your doc, and then make Calibre use it using the method above.  As I mentioned before, you won’t have trouble with the prc file because you’ll be constructing a Guide to your TOC (as well as beginning page and cover of course).

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Eat a Good Lunch!

I know, a very odd title to a blog post.  But that’s one of the big things I’ve learned in this E-Book formatting journey.  Without food for the brain, you’re brain stops working!

I recently breezed through a Kindle Content (prc) format for a client, perfect book. Then tried to do the same with the Epub version…didn’t happen.  I had to edit the format 5 times, try to validate it on 3 times, re-link all the web and interior links twice. Finally after 3 hours (boy did I loose money that day) I had a book I was proud to send off to the client. The moral of this story is that I ate breakfast that day about 7, and then didn’t eat again until 6 that evening.  If I had stopped for lunch I probably wouldn’t have had to re-do that epub so many times!

What happened, you ask? Well, it seems the more you copy or save a doc, the more those weblinks can get just slightly wonky.  So my tip for today…edit links very carefully in HTML, look at every one, if you see something odd, edit it!  Actually the best thing to do is to re-link everything every time you save a doc OR don’t link until you know your Word doc is perfect!  Also, when someone sends you a weblink, don’t use it.  Instead go directly to the linked site/URL, copy and paste that into your Hyperlink function in Word.  It may look exactly the same, but believe me you’ll be surprised sometimes when you get the doc into HTML how different it really is!  I wish I had done this, gone back to my base Word doc and re-linked everything.  Would have saved myself tons of time on this book!

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Winter in Maine

Well, the weather is awful, not at all like a Texas winter, but it gives me the excuse to stay in  and work, work, work.

I’ve learned so much about formatting and the changing technology of e-books in the last year. And although my book, The Ebook Revolution Formatting Guide, was an a good way to send all I learned out into the universe, it needs to be updated or re-written or something!  It seems to have helped quite a few people though, so I’ll have to think about what I want to change and what I want to keep very carefully.  Maybe I’ll just leave it alone and keep putting the tips in this blog?

I actually need to move my office into my living room where the woodstove is.  It’s too time-consuming to get up from my computer every 10 minutes to make sure the stove is still heating.  How in the world did I ever survice winters in Maine when my son was an infant and we only heated this house with wood?  And we only had one bathroom and it was downstairs, not upstairs where the bedrooms were? And I didn’t have a 4-wheel drive SUV? Ahhh, progress!

About that re-write of my book…I think not.  I have 3 novels in various stages of completion, so why don’t I just finish those (in my spare time, hah!) and do what I do for everyone else…format them as e-books!  Maybe I should just take one day a week and write instead of format.  Although that will have to start in February, because January 2012 is already filled with formatting jobs for multiple authors!

I am excited about my son joining me in the biz beginning on Jan, 10…he’s a genius on the computer, very creative with image manipulation, a fantastic photographer, wonderful at proofing and copyediting…just the person I need to push this biz ahead!  Thanks, Jon…you’re the best son ever!!!

So keep visiting my blog for the further adventures of A Thirsty Mind E-Book Prep.  It’s a fantastic biz and I thank all my clients who have taken a chance on me in the past year for their continued support!  Authors are awesome!

Posted in Formatting, Musings | 2 Comments

Linking Images to TOC content

Well, I just got the ‘skinny’ from Smashwords today. I wanted to use an Image as the Title/Author Heading for a short story colleciton. Then link the TOC text back to that image. I can do this for Kindle and it’s gorgeous, but lucky for me, I hesitated when formatting the Smashwords doc which distributes to Sony and lots of others. Instead I put leading text above the Title/Author image, and linked the TOC to the leading text. Not nearly so pretty. But when Smashwords finally answered my question, they said that they couldn’t support that function at this time.

Hmm, I know I’ve done this before, linked a TOC entry (Excerpt of…) back to the thumbnail cover for the excerpt. I wonder why this is not supported now?

Oh well, just one other reason to be glad that Smashwords is letting us upload an EPUB in 2012 besides the normal Word doc.

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