Cutting Your Hair, Killing Your Spouse and Formatting Your Ebook -- Reb MacRath

Let's start off with hair, since we all love our hair though we're often driven nuts by it. From (t)hair we can move on to killing our mates when they hate the books we love or don't share our craving for pasta. Luck allowing, we'll have time to share a few thoughts about ebooks. Okay!

You have four basic choices for cutting your hair:

1) You can cut it yourself.

2) You can go to the cheapest spot in town.

3) You can go to an old school-style barber who's mastered all the basic cuts and charges only a few dollars more.

4) You can go to a salon and pay designer prices for a more individual and expressive look.

You can shave have your pate or mow your hair down to a passable buzz cut. For anything else, though, you really should dollar to get what is best for your hair. Good, we're making progress here. And, because you're all clever, I know you'll have guessed that the same four options apply to the killing of spouses.

Once again, it pays to have the job done right and rein in our miserly natures. Agreed. But apply the same four options to formatting ebooks? Dissension begins.

Now, I know a few fine writers who do their own formatting. To a man and woman, they're technically adept. And they've taken care to keep their manuscript design very clean and simple. Even so, they're mistaken in claiming that anyone can do it. Even paid professionals can and do bungle the job. (I counted nearly a hundred formatting errors in the ebook version of a well-known writer's novel. Her publisher had formatted it.)

Substantiating evidence

1) After paying $25 to have my first (38,000 word) ebook formatted. I was alarmed to see the text on Kindle's online previewer. There wasn't much that wasn't wrong. The formatter insisted that the text would be perfect in the published version--my previewer was to blame, she said. Still, I pointed out, the formatted Word document she'd sent back to me showed exactly the same errors. Long story short: I spent hours trying to get the formatting corrected, but whatever she changed caused new problems. End result: the published book was readable and earned some fine reviews...but it looked like free verse with the faulty indents and line breaks. It needs to be reformatted by #4, below.

2) I paid $75 for a second formatter, who did my next couple of books. I learned, right off, that I'd been right: the formatted text does reflect what I will see on the previewer. The formatter did a fine job, but one that still required a good deal of fine-tuning. Even more fine-tuning was needed for the next book, but she made all changes quickly.  Moreover, I enjoyed the salon treatment--she connected me with some reviewers and touted my work on her website. But she was determined to retire in France by age forty--and she raised her prices dramatically while becoming less accessible. (I've since learned that she's stopped formatting altogether.)

3) The third formatter charged the same $25 as my first formatter. But her credentials looked rock solid, and I liked the way she worked: she lined up her projects a month in advance...then devoted herself to the project at hand. She did three books for me--with next to no tuning required. She represented old school barbering at its best. Yet I had to move on again for my new book, Red Champagne. This book required some 'extras' that #3 couldn't provide. I chose a salon with a difference.

4) Formatting of the new novel cost me $60--and, all in all, I couldn't have made a better investment. Red Champagne contained a slew of typographical choices I did not want to abandon. In a tricky story involving different time lines, I'd chosen several strategies for making it clear to the reader. To give you one example: I needed to isolate some sections of dialogue so that readers would know at a glance that a playwright was doing the talking. Decision: I wanted the dialogue in bold with 'stage directions' between her quips in underlined regular type. Formatter #3 had told me this wouldn't work because Amazon's automated what-nots would override the underlining--or, just as bad, underlining would like unprofessional. But formatter #4 insisted that saving the text in MOBI would prevent Amazon from overriding--and that underlining would look fine, far better than italics.. End result: for $60 I received exactly what I wanted...with a handful of glitches (all my fault) that were fixed in a matter of hours

 Closing Words in Praise of Pros

When the job has been done right, your baby will have brio. The spirit it conveys will say:

Consider these three points in closing:

1) Self-formatting is hardly free. You need to factor in the time and energy required. Let's say the entire process takes at least 12 hours (for a shorter novel). Are your freedom and time not worth the money it would cost you to have the job done by a pro?

2) Your odds of success at a discounted price are best if your text's style is basic: font: regular, bold and italic...none of Red Champagne's challenging tacks to set off important clues, etc....Your work can be perfectly formatted for far less than you think.

3) Even if you need to get the job done cheaply now, keep the salon option open. What you'll want to know, going in, is if formatting is something the salon owner does on the side or if it's something s/he rightly regards as an art. Next, you'll want to know if s/he can assist in other ways. For example: I have three remaining horror novels, written as Kelley Wilde, that I'd like to issue as ebooks. Unfortunately, they were not saved on discs. I couldn't bear the thought of retyping each from scratch, as I'd done with The Suiting. But my new formatter, Yvonne Betancourt, has the equipment to scan the actual book, converting it to Word. And she is willing to do this at an affordable price. Yvonne has also added proofreading to her menu.

So, let's hear it for good hair days...another night's peace with our partners...and perfectly formatted books.

Here's the link to Red Champagne, the book my fourth formatter proved could be done as I wanted:

Parting Words in Praise of the Number 50

Three writers have inspired me since December 1964, when I discovered them and chose to be a writer. For fifty years I hoped to channel and fuse the Big Three in one book--and I think you'll enjoy the ride. 

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Nick Mercurio said…
Well, Reb, I must say I've never heard of fusing those three writers together. But I like the idea. I'll give your Red Champagne a try. Just one small thing's confused me: you never mentioned Ovid...whom I happen to know you adore. So what gives? Have you turned on the Big O?
glitter noir said…
Good to hear from you again, Nick. But I'm appalled that you could think I'd ever turn on Ovid. I discovered him long after my discover of the Three--and I wasn't fool enough to pass on the drama of a fifty-year affair with three great writers. Still, don't despair, I've found sly ways to honor O: at key points in the tale, the hero is trapped in Tomis, Divo and Naso. The first place is where Ovid was exiled...the second reverses the spelling of the poet's name...and the third is the last name in his triple moniker.
Cherokee Blacke said…
Provocative, as always, Reb. But I'm not sure I see the point to the scattered Ovidian in-jokes. One reader in a thousand might catch on to your game. No disrespect intended, but this reminds me of Auden's early work--filled with references and symbols known only to an inner circle. In a way, we could say, that was part of its charm--listening in on a witty, learned fellow entertaining his rascally friends. Even so, Auden turned from this. And what's the point any in-joke next to no one understands?
glitter noir said…
Cherokee, in-jokes have gotten a bum rap from the dreadful messes made of them by pompous academics. The point must never be to pull off a superior joke on nitwit readers in the 'burbs. The best in-jokes work regardless of whether readers get the hidden meaning. Nothing is lost, for example, if readers miss the Ovidian connections in the names of those three towns. Nothing! On the other hand, the best in-jokes can suggest layers of meaning the readers may want to explore. And it's far more effective if the readers discover these layers than if they're hit over their heads.
JO said…
I do my own formatting - but I live alone, so no one is upset by al the swearing etc that goes into it. And my books are fairly straightforward - I don't even have a list of chapters page at the beginning.

So it is possible but I don't think I could have done it unless I took the phone off the hook, refused to answer the door etc. Even someone putting a head round the door offering a coffee would have meant starting at the beginning again!

(But I don't cut my own hair!)
glitter noir said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
glitter noir said…
Jo, how many hours does it take format one of your books? I grow more and more curious about how the cheaper formatters even turn a profit. Example: a short novel of 40,000 words. My first formatter turned her assignment around in hours...but then she needed to keep fixing her errors till I gave up. The third formatter, who charged the same low price, did beautiful work. But for $25, to make any profit at all, she'd have had to do the job in hours: 3 hours would net her $8 an hour. My current formatter devoted much of a weekend to formatting and review. How about you?
Lee said…
I feel that references (in-jokes or whatever) are fine as long as they further the text. In fact, this corresponds to my position on metaphor too: don't use one, however original or stunning, unless relevant to something you're establishing in the story -- character development, theme, etc.

Not having read Red Champagne, I can't tell whether a couple of Ovid-related names function in this way. Perhaps one day I'll be fortunate enough to say 'yes indeed'.
glitter noir said…
I hope you'll look at it one day, Lee. It seems we're in agreement on the essential point: no reference or whatever should be permitted to carry a load that it needs assistance carrying. As names for the asylums, Divo, Naso and Tomis are unobtrusive without any orchestra or noisome clash of symbols. At the same time, readers who figured the game might have a little extra fun with the Ovidian word games: e.g., following a sentence with the same sentence in reverse, meaning something entirely different. An extra layer, not required to enjoy the novel.

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