Friday, April 5, 2013

New proofing technique

For my previous books, one of the proofing techniques I used was to select text and have the computer read it back to me. On the Mac, I used one of the female voices that came with the current flavor of OS X I was using. But the speech synthesis was so awful that I couldn’t listen to it for long.

For Jane, Actually, I tried another method: reading out loud and dramatically what I’d written. This method works well as long as you do it in short shifts, but after about fifteen minutes, you’ll lapse into a monotone of despair.

Then I took a tip from my own book. Jane Austen learns that her agent, Melody, had replaced the default digitized voice on her portable AfterNet terminal with a more expensive and better sounding British-accented voice When Jane speaks to Melody through the terminal, it really sounds like Jane.

I was prepared to spend a little money looking for a better digitized voice when I realized Mac OS X Mountain Lion has additional free, better-quality voices you can download. They’re not part of the standard install. I quickly found Serena and installed it and suddenly my text became prose. There’s nothing like an British accent to make stuff cultured.

There are still the predictable problems—read vs read and lead vs lead—and some surprises. If you type June 8, Serena will say “the eighth of June.” And the way she says “Baaatthh” is to die for.

If you’d like to hear a sample of Serena, visit this site:

Imagine how cool it must be to an actual British author. They already sound like that.

Preparing Jane, Actually for publication

Jane, Actually is my third book and thus my third time preparing a book to be printed through Amazon CreateSpace and my third attempt at creating an ebook for the Kindle and other handheld devices. The process of self-publishing is bother easier and harder than my first attempts. The tools I use have gotten better and I’ve gotten better at using them, but there are many more ways to read ebooks now, which makes the process far more difficult. And I’ve also gotten more ambitious. I thought I’d start this series of articles with a look at what make Jane, Actually a more complicated book than my previous books.

First, Jane, Actually is just a bigger book. It’s about 120,000 words, which adds up to 384 pages. With the usual front matter (title page, copyright) and a short Austen bio and a guide the afterlife, plus the extra page CreateSpace adds on for a barcode, it’s 408 pages long.

Part of the length is attributable to the short chapters, a total of 68. In order to keep the book manageable, I went up to a 5.5x8.5 inch book (up from my previous 5x8 books), and I decreased the type size from 11 point to 10.5 point.

The bulk of the book was created in Microsoft Word, which allowed me to take advantage of Word’s grammar checker, but eventually I moved the content to Adobe Indesign.

I used InDesign’s book feature to manage individual chapter documents. The book feature makes it possible to do things like maintaining style definitions in a master document (Chapter 1). Changes to the master document can then be propagated to the other documents. Unfortunately some changes don’t propagate, like when I changed the dimensions of the Chapter 1 document to 5.5x8.5 inches, that had to be done individually.

And foolishly I had never set Enable Layout Adjustment in Chapter 1, and since all subsequent chapters were just Saved As copies of Chapter 1, those documents did not have Enable Layout Adjustment selected. What does Enable Layout Adjustment do? Well, if you change the margins in a document, you’d like existing text frames to obey those new margins, but that won’t happen unless you set Enable Layout Adjustment (in the Margins and Columns dialog box).

This book was also my first time to use extensive footnotes. Good Cop, Dead Cop did not have footnotes. My Particular Friend only had hypertext links to footnotes at and only in the ebook version. Jane, Actually has footnotes both in the printed version and in the ebook. I would have preferred end notes (at the end of each chapter), but InDesign does not support that. The ebook has end notes for each chapter.

The Kindle PaperWhite and Fire render the same drop cap

All the flavors of Kindle
I have created initial drop caps for the opening paragraph for each chapter, something I also did for My Particular Friend, but I’m trying to keep those drop caps for the Kindle and epub versions.

Of course, the original Kindle couldn’t show drop caps, but the Kindle PaperWhite and the three different Kindle Fires can. Creating a single Kindle file that works on all the different flavors of Kindle is quite challenging. With the PaperWhite and Fire models, Amazon introduced Kindle Format 8, which I suspect is basically just the EPUB format. The new format supports custom fonts and advanced formatting, but the same design looks slightly different on each model of Kindle.

I’ll discuss the process of specifying within the style sheet attached to a MOBI file how to target the original Kindle and the new KF8 models.

Fewer tools
I don’t know whether I’ve gotten better at the conversion process or the tools have gotten better, but I’m definitely using fewer tools to create MOBIs and EPUBs. My work flow is much simpler, involving less back and forth. The process goes: InDesign to Sigil and then Kindle Previewer to convert Sigil-created EPUB to MOBI. I occasionally use Dreamweaver or BBEdit to edit the CSS file I’ll use in the EPUB or to make global changes in the HTML files exported from InDesign.

I find that the EPUB validator in Sigil now does an excellent job of verifying that I have a valid EPUB. If Sigil is happy with the EPUB, Kindle Previewer converts it into a MOBI without errors.

I’ll post separate articles about each step in the process.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Announcing Jane, Actually

This summer, Mallard Press will introduce a new imprint, Mallard Sci-Fi,  and a new novel, Jane, Actually, by Jennifer Petkus. Here’s the description:

With the invention of the AfterNet, death isn’t quite the end to a literary career it once was, and Jane Austen, the grande dame of English literature, is poised for a comeback with the publication of Sanditon, the book she was writing upon her death in 1817.

But how does a disembodied author sign autographs and appear on talk shows? With the aid of Mary Crawford, a struggling acting student who plays the role of the Regency author who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Emma and Sense and Sensibility. But Austen discovers her second chance at a literary career also gives her a second chance at happiness and possibly even … love.

Jane, Actually is the second book about the AfterNet, although it’s not a sequel to Good Cop, Dead Cop. The events in the book take place during 2011. Advance Reading Copies should become available shortly.