Monday, April 29, 2013

Using Google Docs to Prepare a document for Kindle Upload Part 1

A couple of months ago, I bought a Samsung 11 inch Chromebook. I was a bit unsure how much use I would get out of it at the time. It has since become my primary computer. I discussed in a previous post about it's strengths and limitations for writers.

It has turned out to be one of my best $250 purchases. While I can't do heavy
duty photo editing or publication design work, with Google docs and access to WiFi, I can do just about everything else. 

One thing I was sure I couldn't do was to prepare my files for upload to Kindle. I generally used InDesign or MS-Word so I could meet the standards of Amazon for convertible files, and to be able to create a clickable table of contents. 

Turns out I can do all that using Google Docs. That's right, online, free software being able to do as good of a job as the full MS-Word program in creating a file for Kindle upload. 

Now, this is in no way Microsoft Bashing. Word is a great program and can do tons of things no online program can do including those at And complicated print oriented documents you really do need something like Word or InDesign to create a wide variety of Headers and formatting styles. 

However, simplicity is the key to formatting an ebook. Fancy borders, page numbers, footers and headers are actually bad for ebook formatting and have to be removed. So, in this case, a simpler format is better. 

So, how can you use Google Docs to format your ebook? 

I'm going to assume you have no knowledge of ebook formatting throughout this article. So, if you are a pro, just bear with the step by step approach. 

Create the Workspace

Start by setting up your workspace on the screen. I like to create a document that will look similar to the format of an ereader.

To do this, I click on File and then on Page Settings. When I do I get a dialog box like this:

I start by setting the paper size to "Statement" size 5.5 x 8.5 inches. That is close to the dimensions of a 7 inch diagonal reader. I leave the default to portrait (that's a vertical layout) and then I set all the margins to zero.

Why do I zero out the margins? Each ereader has a setting where the reader can set their preferred margins, so any margins you set could be added to any that they set. It goes back to the basics of "less is more" when formatting an ebook.

Paragraph and Line Settings

Next you want to set your paragraph and line settings. The first thing to decide is if you want each paragraph to be indented, to mark off paragraphs with spaces between them or to do both. There are partisans for each approach. I'm stylistically neutral on that question. Whatever style you think will make your book easier to read is the one to choose. But here's what you need to know about Google docs.

Line Spacing 

To set line spacing, just click on Format and you get this dialog box.

Click on Line spacing. Choose either 1 or 1.15. Nothing larger than that. I find that 1.15 works a little better for me, but try both and see what looks best with your font.

You will also have the option to select to put a space after each paragraph. I generally don't do that for fiction, but I'm a bit more open with nonfiction. Again, try it both ways and see what you think.

Setting the Indentation

By default, Google Docs has an automatic first line indent of .5 inches. With a five and a half inch screen that is almost 1/10 of the line. You might want to reduce this. This is simple to do.

There is a ruler at the top of the screen. You will see a small square where the first indent tab is set.

Just click and drag that blue bar to whatever point you want. I keep mine at about .25 inches.  If you want that to be your default on Google Docs, just click on the Styles menu (that's a box that probably has the word "Normal" in it), scroll to the bottom and click options and then click "Save as my Default Styles." If you want no automatic indent, just push the tab all the way to the left end and set that as you default style.

BTW, you can easily set your default styles by simply setting up everything the way you want it to be and then click options and "Save as my Default Styles."

In our next post we will talk about setting fonts, styles, headings and creating a table of contents.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Are you one of those filthy Cyber Pirates?

A few days ago there was a big discussion on a couple of author email loops I belong to about a potential pirate site. Everyone was outraged when they saw their books on those sites. The moral outrage was everywhere. However, I had occasion to visit a couple of their blogs and websites and, guess what I found out? They were filthy cyber-pirates. And guess what else, I may have been as
Credit No Frills Excursions

My mother used to say when you point a finger at anyone else, there are three pointing back at you. That was how I learned to use the open handed pointing technique. However, I don't think that's what she was trying to tell me.

In the digital age, it is very easy to violate copyright, but if we ever expect people to respect our intellectual property rights, we have to respect theirs. Here's an example.

Several months ago, a blogger (and author) was shocked to receive a bill from a photographer for a substantial amount of money because she had used one of their photographs in her blog. She was quite disturbed that someone would actually defend their own intellectual property rights to a photograph they took.

Of course, that is completely different from posting, say a book or short story of yours online. Right? WRONG!!!!!!!

Just because something can be downloaded and posted doesn't mean it should be. Other examples I have found where authors have violated other's copyrights include:

  • Reprinting devotions that have been posted online
  • Using popular music tracks as background for book trailers without obtaining permission.
  • Copying and sharing materials received at conferences without permission of the authors. 
  • Use of images of copyrighted/trademarked/licensed characters in their blogs. 
A lot of people will say, "Yeah, but putting that picture on my blog doesn't hurt anything. It's not like I charged for it, and I put in a credit line." So, by that logic, it doesn't matter if someone shares your book on a file sharing site as long as they don't charge for it and include your name when they do? 

The fact that I have seen people post a disclaimer reading something like: "I do not   claim to own the photos used on this site. They were taken by ____ and I give full credit to them."

Again, what if someone posted your book online with a disclaimer like that?

So, what can we do?

First, treat people like you would like to be treated. It's an old rule, but a good one. If you wouldn't like your stuff used without your permission, don't use theirs without permission.

Second, ask for permission. It's amazing how often, if you just ask, people will say yes. I've had a number of my daily devotions I used to put out posted without my permission on websites. If they had asked, I would have given permission, but I like to be asked.

Third, use creative commons licensed materials. If you are looking for photos or other media you can go to . You can search for music, art, video or images that the producers have made available to be used just for a credit line. I use creative commons stuff all the time. I also license a number of things with them. For instance, this blog is under creative commons. You can use any of my articles on it for free as long as you don't modify them.

Fourth, pay for stuff. I know the words "pay" and "internet" are not the type of words that people like to see at the same time, but we all have to make a living. There are numerous stock photo and music sites that you can buy the rights to pictures and music. Obviously, that would not be economical for a single blog post, but for a web site or book trailer it would make sense.

So, the bottom line is cyber pirates aren't just "those people." Sometimes "They are Us." My acting honorably in regards to other people's copyrights may not staunch the flood of cyberpiracy by itself, but at least, if I do what's right, there is as C.S. Lewis said in another context, "one less rascal" in the world. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Even YOU can Create a Meme

One of the products of social media has been the meme. While there isn't any simple definition that encompasses all examples sufficiently, I'd say a meme is a picture with a thought provoking statement.

We see these all the time on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest and Twitter. Some become viral and go around the world.

These meme's enhance your personal or professional Facebook pages and twitter updates. People tend to share them, comment on them and "like" them. These are all factors that increase your visibility in social media.

You can, of course, simply download and share memes you find on the web. The other way is to create your own. You can use Meme Generators or Build from scratch.

Meme Generators

You can find these by simply running a google search for "meme generators." They are all pretty much the same. They have many of the most common ones like the angry baby, the "Most Interesting Man in the World," and the thinking dinosaur. You can just add your text. You don't have much choice as to font, but it is quick. Here's one I did:

If you are just looking for some neutral backgrounds, you can try 

It has fewer character type backgrounds and has more scenic. Here's one I did with them for our church facebook page:

For inspirational or more serious memes, this service is a bit better than most meme generating sites. 

Working from Scratch

Of course, if you want something uniquely you, you can work from scratch. Find your own picture to match your words or a quote you found. It doesn't require massive skills with Photoshop, you can do all the essential editing online. Here are the steps:

Get an Idea

Obviously, you have to start with an idea. Now, the idea can start with either the words or the picture. Sometimes I'm inspired by a picture. For instance, I found this one on the NASA web site:

NASA is a great source for photos, and they are mostly free to use commercially because they are in the public domain. 

I was working on a "minidevotion" for our church Facebook page. I saw this and I was thinking about how short life is and how great the cosmos and how God had plans for me beyond this short life. So, my thought was "God's retirement plan - It's Out of this World." 

I went to an online photo editor. There are several of this but I used . I just used Pixlr express. It's easy to use. I opened the picture then clicked on the Text button. I looked at a number of different text styles and finally picked one. 

I decided to go for a "punch line" approach. The top line near the top of the picture would be the set up "God's Retirement Plan" and the bottom line, "It's out of this world," would be the kicker near the bottom of the picture. 

This is the result of about 10 minutes "work."

Now, I have something I can save, download and post on our church Facebook page. 

You can also find photos you are free to use by running a search at . Be sure to check that their pictures are still under creative commons license and follow any attribution instructions carefully.  

So, that's how you can make your own memes. Who knows? Maybe your's will be the next Angry Baby or Grumpy Cat. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Making Cyber-Pirates Work for You

There is an old saying that goes, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I think that can apply to piracy as well. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe the theft of intellectual property is morally reprehensible. However, I doubt that sites
Photo Credit Laura604
selling or sharing illegal copies of novels are that harmful to authors.

Sometimes the comparison is made to the music industry. File sharing and piracy, according to this theory have destroyed it. Yet, I don't see iTunes or Amazon music closing their doors. And services like Rhapsody, Pandora and Spotify operating legally and paying royalties to artists/producers are doing quite well. Indie bands, who used to be limited to playing small clubs within a few miles of their homes, can now have a world wide following.

If anything, the music industry is experiencing a renaissance.  A few music producers can no longer dictate the tastes for the entire country because, there is always an outlet for an artist, songwriter or band that offers something different and find an audience. Of course, this has weakened the power and cut into the profits of the major corporations.

Yet, while the big music producers have pioneered technology and have been aggressive about prosecuting music pirates, many indie bands have embraced the unauthorized sharing of their music as a form of advertising.

Explaining why Smashwords does not offer Digital Rights Management software, Mark Coker said, "We believe that obscurity is a bigger threat to authors than piracy." Neil Gaiman points out in a video that most people do not discover a favorite author by finding a book by him or her in a bookstore. They were usually lent a book by that author by a friend or they got it from a library. We know this and in neither of those cases, did the author sell that original book or earn any royalties on it (aside from the original sale). If done with a digital book, it might be legally called piracy (and with good reason because the technology makes possibly mass distribution which is unlikely with a friend lending a book).

Let me ask a question. How much would you pay to get a full page advertisment listing all your books complete with ordering instructions into the hands of someone who is interested in your subject or the genre of fiction that you write? Would that be worth 50 cents? A Dollar? Two dollars? How about free?

That's right, free! Think about it, once you get past the moral outrage (which is legitimate), and think about it logically, book piracy probably is not costing you much, if anything.

"Hold on!" you say, "They didn't pay for my book. Therefore, I lost a royalty." But think for a moment. How many people using a file sharing site or getting a copy of your book from a friend would have bought your book anyway? If they wanted to buy your book, they would have gone to Amazon or Barnes Noble or wherever first. Unless you are a "name" author, they downloaded your book because it looked interesting and might be interested in other books you have as well, if this one lived up to its promise.

So, you lose no money (they would not have bought that book anyway) and you introduce someone who is interested in your genre of writing to your work. It's like a 200 page ad delivered into their hands without you paying out a single penny.

Of course, to make this work, you have to do a few things.

First, you need a brand and not just a single book. Too many people get all caught up in one book. They write it, then they spend months either trying to sell it to a publisher or publishing it themselves. Then they spend months promoting and marketing it. During that time they don't even think about any other books. If all you have is one book, yes, you will lose from the pirates (if they even care to steal your work.) However, you are going to lose in the long run anyway. You can't build a career from one book. So, you need a number of books either already published or in the works.

Second, use that digital file to lead them to your other books in legitimate venues. For instance, on the title page, have a link to your author page on Amazon or Facebook. Include your email address or link to your website. In the back of the book include a list of all your other books with direct live links to your sales page on Amazon or BN or other vendor. Inside the book, if you make a reference to something that you cover at length in another book, set a link to that book. Now, if someone does steal your book and shares it (or even sells it on a website), they are just advertising your whole line of books for you.

Third, pirate yourself. You can take the teeth out of the piracy, but adding links in your books to a web page which promises to provide free downloads of stories, novellas, or complete novels from your line. People who download a book for free are likely to be interested in other free stuff.

So, putting your pirates to work for you can turn something irritating into something profitable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cyber-pirates: How to Thwart them. How to make them work for you. Part 2: Education.

Your typical image of a cyber-pirate is someone either trying to make a buck stealing someone else's books and selling them. Either that, or you have the image of a cyber-rebel like Anonymous who believes that the copyright laws are too
Photo Credit Creative Commons License
restrictive and that everyone should have to right to have access to everything anyone else writes, publishes or produces online.

In both these cases, you have people who are knowingly breaking the law. However, a major portion of cyber piracy takes place "innocently." In other words, the people violating your intellectual property rights aren't hackers either for money or a cause. They are ordinary people who simply don't understand, first, what they are doing is illegal, and secondly, do not understand the consequences to the author of what they are doing.

At a very minor level, this can be something as simple as buying a book they really like and then making a copy of it and giving it to a friend or relative. They see it as the same as letting someone borrow a print copy of the book. They do not realize the difference is that they are creating a new copy of the book which can then be copied again and again. Some of the major producers of ebooks understand the impulse to lend a book to someone else and have set up tools to allow it without creating massive file sharing.

This process of lending among small groups of friends can be beneficial to an author. Someone said that piracy is not the greatest threat to an artist. Obscurity is. We will talk about that in our next post. However, one of the leading ways people choose a book to read is through the recommendation of a friend or family member. They can choose an author the same way. You might lose that one sale, but gain a buyer for all your other books.

Where innocent or unintentional piracy becomes a problem is when people take their lending outside of the small circle of close friends and makes their books available on file sharing sites. Posting a book or even all of an author's books on one of these sites makes that book available free to thousands of people.

Most people on these sites don't think about how this can affect an author. They are enthusiastic about the book. They want others to read it. They also like having free access to other books. They may not even know that they have no legal right to post that book without the authors permission. I'm amazed at the number of people who naively believe a site must be operating legally or they wouldn't be allowed to continue. Like there is a government agency that looks over every web developer's business plan and has to approve it before going online.

One thing indie authors and small publishers can do is start educating their readers on blogs, author pages, through Facebook and Twitter, that when they download an unauthorized free copy of a book, they are taking money out of an author's pocket and that, by and large, authors make very little money as it is. The Hollywood image of the author as wealthy jet setter is embedded into their mentality. Just including in your Facebook posts that reflect your real lifestyle and your joy over a royalty check albeit a small one can help educate people that you are a real person who depends to a greater or lesser extent on your legitimate sales for your income.

It is very easy to not think about how your file sharing will affect that wealthy author you see in the movies. It is much harder to ignore it's affect on that author who posted on twitter the other day about trying to save money on plumbing and fixing the faucet yourself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pirates of the Cyberspace: How to Thwart them or Make them Work for You Part 1 - Pricing.

Any of us who do digital publishing know that real pirates are not Johnny Depp or Gilbert and Sullivan's lovable rogues. They are people who have no respect for the property rights of others. They are, in fact, thieves, who frequently pose as  free speech advocates, but, in reality, just enjoy getting something for nothing and  steal money mostly from writers who are often living from hand to mouth already.

Unfortunately, they are also an inevitable part of the digital literary landscape.
Photo Credit: StrangeInterlude
Eventually, the law and new business models will reduce the impact on authors. We see part of this in the music industry as music producers and performers, in spite of high profile file-sharing cases, have incorporated piracy into new business models.

In the meantime, what are some things indie authors and small publishers can do to deal with these not so lovable rogues?

First, let's deal with something NOT to do. Avoid DRM encoding. What is DRM? DRM (digital rights managemen) is a type of encoding that attempts to prevent any copying or sharing of the ebook. That's a good thing, though. Right?

Not really. First, let's say you buy a book and DRM is turned on. You download it to your ereader. Your ereader is unavailable, though, so you say, "I'll just read it on my iPad." Depending on how its configured, you will not be able to download it on your iPad. It's like saying you bought this book, but you can only read it in your house. You can't take it to the beach with you. Some people don't even know how to unlock a DRM protected file.

Increasingly, for practical reasons alone, publishers and indie authors are avoiding DRM. However, there is another piracy prevention factor in avoiding DRM. Many pirates view DRM as "The Enemy." It's "The Man" trying to tell them how they can read their books and they use a lot of convoluted logic to convince everyone that basically putting a lock on your front door violates everyone else's civil rights to use your property.

DRM is flawed technologically, but the idea is philosophically sound. Nevertheless, literature pirates use it's restrictions and their own twisted view of property rights as a rationale to stick it to those rich publishers making all that money. The fact that it is usually the poorly compensated author that gets hurt the most never seems to connect. Nevertheless, DRM encoding is easily broken by using software readily available on the web. Between the philosophy that the author/publisher is overreacting and the general ineffectiveness of the software, it is better to not install it.

So, what can be effective?


People know that it costs next to nothing to publish a digital version of a book. Yes, there is the work that goes into it, the hours of pouring over your plot outline, the tears you shed when a character you loved died. But that didn't take any money out of your pocket. That's all the customer cares about. If you charge the same price (or higher) as a print book, you are putting up a sign saying, "Okay, pirates, you can steal this book and feel justified doing so."

There are three types of pirates: The Inadvertent Pirate, The Opportunistic Pirate and the Self-Justifying Pirate. High cover prices attract all three. The Inadvertent Pirate is someone who doesn't even know what they are doing is wrong. They download an ebook, like it and share it with a friend. They don't see it as any different than sharing a physical book, even though it is quite a bit different in that you are actually making copies of the book. However, if a friend asks about the book and it is pricey, the person is likely to say, "Hey, I've finished with the book, I'll email you the file." On the other hand if they thought they got a bargain, they are more likely to say, "Oh, it's just 99 cents on Amazon, a great buy."

The Opportunistic Pirate has no political agenda or philosophical justification, s/he is only interested in profit. These people set up web sites (many of which look like legitimate online book stores) and advertise "discount" ebooks. They take a $12.95 ebook and sell it for $5.95. Often, the buyer has no idea that they are, in essence, receiving stolen property. However, taking a book that sold originally online for $3.99 for $2.00 is not going to be a large enough discount to attract customers, nor will it provide the profit margin they need for defending against the inevitable copyright infringement lawsuits.

Perhaps, the most difficult pirate is The Self-Justifying Pirate. This person considers himself or herself basically ethical. However, they see a product that doesn't have any actual physical presence, which can be duplicated thousands or even millions of times essentially for free, that is selling for the same price as a book that costs $3 - 4.00 to produce, and which is also being sold at a substantial markup.

They latch on to that sense of inappropriate pricing as a justification to stick it to "The Man" who is ripping off the reader. These are the sort that might not even sell the books they pirate. They simply share them on peer-to-peer websites. They see themselves doing a public service.

This, of course, is not a legitimate justification. Apple products have the same basic components under the hood as any other computer and on a technical basis perform pretty much the same as Dell, HP or other computers. Their distinction is their Operating system and some cosmetic styling. Yet, they charge almost twice that of many non-apple products for a computer with the same equipment specifications. However, I don't see anyone saying it is justifiable to go down to your Apple store and start stealing Macbooks. Overpricing is not a justification for theft.

However, we are dealing with perception, and many of the Self-Justifying Pirates feel it is an excuse. The solution: Price like a pirate. Set your price in such a way that it recognizes that your cost of production (aside from personal time) is extremely low. You can make a decent profit on most books charging under five dollars and at that price, it is nearly as economical to buy legally as it is to buy from a pirate.

So, the first way to thwart a pirate is to set a price that makes a profit for you, but won't make one for the pirate.

Monday, April 8, 2013

It's time for E-publications to E-volve

Okay, this is part rant and partly a reminder to the next generation of indie (and traditional) publishers that epublications will not and should not continue to be print publications put online.

So, what got me in this ranting mood? Well, I subscribe to two magazines I download from online. One, in particular, I downloaded today. It's a new one
published by a group I belong to. The other is a magazine about history and archeology.

Both publications look exactly like their print counterparts. So, what's wrong with that. Well, their print counterparts are about 10x12 inches. My iPad is about 7 X 9. Most ereaders are about 5X7. And most smart phones are about 3 X 5. Do you see the problem? Print and epub are different media and should be treated differently.

About 30 years ago, I took a TV production class. One of our projects was to produce a commercial. The instructor said something that stuck with me throughout my advertising career. "If your commercial would work just as well as a radio ad or the text for a newspaper ad, then you are not using TV to it's potential."

That is what is happening to epublishing. Take that PDF magazine I just got. It looks beautiful, but if I want to actually read an article, I have to increase the size of the page, which means part of the page falls off the screen, the fonts increase, but get a bit fuzzy and nothing resizes or reformats for the different proportions for different devices. Basically, all they did was take the PDF they sent to the printers and put it online.

They do have a text only option, but nobody tested it. When you open it, apostrophes and other punctuation are just boxes on the screen. Undoubtedly, they simply copy and pasted from the PDF or MS-Word file without checking to see if the import worked. People wanted an online publication. So, a print editor created one.

There is more to creating online publications including books, magazines and new multimedia literature than simply taking something created for print and putting it online.

It's easy to criticize, but you ask, what can we do?  Well, there are a lot of things, but let's look at a few.

1. Don't assume print rules apply to epublications. Find out what the research and the experts say are best practices for ereading. The material is out there. Read it and absorb it.

2. Spend time with ereaders, tablets and smartphones yourself. If your only experience reading online is on a desktop or laptop computer, then you only know a portion of the ereading spectrum.

3. Use liquid layouts. Now, I don't have enough space to go into detail about this.  Here is a fairly decent article about it from Adobe. Of course, it discusses the concept in the context of their own software, but the workflow gives you an idea of what is needed.

If you are publishing .mobi or .epub files, you will have a liquid layout whether you like it or not. People will be able to change the size, style, spacing and margins of your text. That's one of the advantages of having an ereader. Don't assume that what you see on your screen when you are doing your layout is what they will see.

4. KISS. Yes, our old friend Keep It Simple, Stupid is back with us. Don't try to get fancy or force a certain page design on your end user. Don't try to flow text around pictures or create sidebars. Think about how this page would look in both portrait and landscape layouts.

5. Stick with one column layouts. Your typical ereader, smartphone and many tablets have a tall thin format, If someone increases the font size you don't want one column only showing partially and make the reader slide back and forth just to read the article.

6. If using a fixed layout design in PDF, provide a readable, scalable text-only alternative. I subscribed to an online version of Smithsonian for awhile. It had great print only options which worked much better in the ereader than the full pages. I'd use the fixed layout to zoom in on the pictures, but would read the articles in the text only version.

7. Think about the future now. Marshal McLuhan noted that every medium begins by borrowing from the previous media. The first TV shows were a mix of movies, stage plays and video versions of radio dramas. Slowly, the medium created it's own unique product.

Ereading is in it's infancy, but we can begin to ask ourselves, what can we do in an ebook we can't do in print. Some things obviously come to mind like creating hyperlinks to online content. Embedding video and audio files are a possibility. Using branching technologies where a reader can choose certain options and that determines where they continue reading has some value both in interactive fiction and for training and education. An interactive textbook could give a student a pre-test and then only display the chapters the student needs to learn without boring him/her with material they already mastered.

8. Don't let your epublication be a second thought. Many publishers today are still thinking in terms of print as the only legitimate form of publication, but they figure they "should" also have an e-version. That's what is happening with some of the downloadable magazines. They are not true epublications, but print publications put on line. Imagine a true ereader based magazine. You could have an article followed by a link that embeds a video interview or a clickable map that can be enlarged with clickable areas that bring up information about those areas.

Even if those are not things you are prepared to do, even if you want to stay mostly text based (which I have no problem with) you still need to design your epublication from the ground up and not just toss off an epublication as an afterthought.

These are just a few thoughts. Do you have any of your own? Why not share them below?