Flunking the Test

O book coding, how I hate thee. Let me count the ways.

I currently have four books out under the Blackmore name, available at B&N an Amazon. I decided I might as well try to get them out to a bigger market (iBooks, Kobo, etc) and thus began checking out my options with Smashwords. The last time I looked at Smashwords, you had to run a Word file through their Meatgrinder, which seemed hit or miss as far as what sort of product it generated. Now, despite my ineptitude I’ve managed to generate nicely formatted EPUB and MOBI books, so using Mr. Grinder was out. I’ve recently discovered that Smashwords now allows you to upload a validated EPUB file, which is awesome.

Which brings me to my problem.

Three of my books have been uploaded (or re-uploaded as updates) to my two primary vendors recently. The last has been untouched since 2011, aside from a cover change. I ran all four through the Sigil validator and the Epub checker linked on the SW site. Two cropped up completely clean. Two had some weird error that multiple Google searches could not quite identify, though it obviously sprang out of the Calibre conversion process (I cleverly deduced this by the “calibre” that popped up in the coding).

In the words of Vibeke, “Shit.”

The books all look fine when viewed through Nooks and Kindles — they’ve been tested on multiple devices. But the manuscript coding needs to check out clean if I want them available on these other platforms…which means I need to figure out what this error is and why it insists on sullying my books.

I did notice one variable. The two clean books are Grave New World and Starfall. Both were experiments for me in that I used Scrivener for them. Grave needed a lot of cosmetic changes, and I ended up making a new Scrivener file for it so I could revise in something besides Sigil. Starfall was written entirely in Scrivener. In both cases, I saved them as ebooks and then opened them up in Sigil for final tweaks, before buzzing them through Calibre for the last formatting.

…it looks kind of complicated when I write it out that way.

Anyway, there’s probably easier methods of getting my books to look decent, but Scrivener-Sigil-Calibre worked out well for GNW and Starfall, and they both pass the check, so I guess I did something right. Provided I’m working with a completed manuscript and can keep myself from tinkering (oh, the tinkering!) with it, the entire process might take five minutes.

Except I have four books to my name, not two. Death and Biker Gangs and Echoes both threw errors when I ran them through the validators. Echoes, as stated, has been left alone since 2011. I did revise DBG, but the changes it needed were fairly minor and I made them directly to the Sigil file.


You can see now why I didn’t go into coding or programming or anything exciting like that.

Since the two clean files have Scrivener in common, I guess I’ll just run an experiment on DBG and see if that solves things. I’ll C&P the files into Scrivener and do whatever it is I did with the other two files to see if that cleans it up.

So scientific, right?

But I will do that later, because at the moment I have actual writing to crank out.

Tagging Mystery

I’ll admit it: I’m a little curious about the person who tagged Echoes on Amazon as being about “coming of age,” “medusa,” and “druids.”

My very grown-up characters have nothing to do with Medusa. They certainly aren’t druids. Nor do they interact with any. I just sat there and stared at the tags blankly, trying to figure out who would get those particular tags out of the plot.

(Although I have to admit, druids looking for Medusa in space is a story I’d probably write.)

Yes, I’m finally getting around to tagging my stories. Late Suz, Very Bad. Grave New World is easy enough; anything remotely zombie/post-apocalyptic fits. I’ve also considered stowing it under fantasy, although I’m leaving it under horror for now.

On the freelance side…I applied to a barrage of gigs this morning. Hopefully a few of them will come through.

In the meantime, I’m working through a manuscript for a new client, and am picking at a “Clips From the End of the World” short story. I’m guessing it’ll top out around 7,000 words; it’ll be a free download on B&N and my website (not sure Amazon allows free downloads). “Clips” serves as a bridge between Grave New World and Death and Biker Gangs. 


A few weeks ago, my Uncle Rich posted a blog about confidence. I’ve meant to respond to it for awhile now, but finally…er…got up the confidence to do so.

I like the colors

At the moment, barring unforeseen difficulties, Echoes will be up on Nook and Kindle by early October. I was at a birthday party several weeks ago and a couple of friends asked what I was doing with the writing. I said “Nothing,” mostly because I didn’t feel like explaining the whole indie process, and I’ll be blunt, I still felt a mild sense of shame about the whole thing…even though the short story/novella print market is basically DOA and there’s nothing else to do with these shorter works, anyway.

The other day, I finally told one of them what I was doing. “YAY!” she exclaimed. “We should have a book launch party!”

The second part of her sentence paralyzed me with terror. Do indie authors get book launch parties? I mean, there’s not a physical book to look at. Are we going to gather around my Nook? Can I still say “I have a book coming out” even though people think “someone is publishing Suz’s book”? Do I have to provide ALL the indie info upfront so as not to mislead them? WHY CAN’T THE SKY BE PURPLE?

Rather than pepper her with questions about the morality of it all, I asked if we could have cake at this party.

Ironically, this all coincides with my half-hearted idea to have a very, very late housewarming party. I’ll have been here for a year on October 9, and never had a proper housewarming, mostly because wackiness at work erupted soon afterward, and then in November I quit my job, and after that hosting a party was the furthest thing from my mind. So I was already considering some kind of low-key gathering. Might as well say, “Hey, I wrote a book and people can BUY IT!” and make it an event, right?

Which is where the whole confidence thing comes in. Most pro writers don’t get a lot of press anymore—the top tier and their bus advertisements aside—and they’re stuck doing their own self-promotion, too. So it’s not like I’m doing anything overly different. But I have to be my own promoter, and that is not my strong suit. I lack confidence in my ability to do that without coming off as overly pushy or just…obnoxious, I guess.

Strangely enough, Echoes is not the problem. I like the story. I am confident that when it is up there, it will be polished and properly formatted—people may not like the story or my writing or my characters, but no one will have a reason to complain about strange symbols or misplaced apostrophes or sentences that just stop. I guess I’m just concerned about that stigma… “Oh, Suz self-published. She cheated. She’s one of them. And she’s full of herself, too!”

But that’s one of the things you have to get over if you decide to do this. I make it a little easier for myself by recalling that there is virtually no print market left for short stories or novellas unless you get into an anthology, and Echoes is a) not romantic enough for the romance anthologies, and b) too long for the sci-fi anthologies. There is literally nowhere else for this story to go besides the Internet.

So I took the first step in marketing myself by actually going on Facebook and announcing to my…er…70 friends that yes, I am doing this thing. I posted the cover art in progress, which I actually really, really like, although it needs to be lightened a bit and maybe have some additional stars filled in.

Then I revamped my pro site—switched to a simpler template, cleared out all the random entries, just smoothed everything out, really. I like it much better. One day, after I learn proper coding or can afford to hire a designer, I’ll have my own Suzesque site…but until then, this will work fine. It’s clean, simple, and easy to navigate.

In The Iliad, Hektor admits to his wife, Andromache, that he is not a warrior by nature—“I have learned to be valiant.” This is basically what I have to do.

(Now, Hektor wound up getting slaughtered by Achilles and dragged around the city of Troy, but we’re going to hope I manage to escape that sad fate.)


Suz vs. Photoshop

A couple of my efforts from today. Note these are not proper covers at all– they don’t even include my name, not to mention the sizing/format is all wrong — they’re just my efforts to create starfields and neat-looking text.

The color’s all wrong on this one, and I think the glowy text is too much for the story, but I like the effect. This is a pretty basic layered pic with noise and clouds added. I just threw the title down at the bottom because I needed to try it somewhere.

I like the starfield, but the lettering’s all wrong. I tried a purple version and liked it better, but it still didn’t quite work…so on I cut out color entirely and went for Ye Olde Black and White.

Playing on the “misty memory” theme. This one’s on the right track, but it’s too stark for me. Needs more color…and less clouding. I really liked the way the text turned out, but it was obscured by the fog and came out too dim for my tastes (remember, I love color and crazy stuff…even though that’s not really en vogue for covers right now, so I’m sucking it up).

While trying to ease up on the fog, I ended up creating the one below…

I actually really like this one. Maybe it’s just the jarring “ONCE” in the middle of the clearing (hooray for accidental centering) I’m not sure, but I do dig it, and I think that might be the proper font format (though I can’t tell you how I got it that way…something about screening and overlays).

If I can figure out how to add a starfield to it or even add a little color in the clouds (make it a nebula) we might be in business…I could see “S.P. Blackmore” on top, and “A Novella” at the bottom, maybe. I’ll keep fiddling.


Hm…still not quite right…I can’t put my finger on what this cover reminds me of, maybe one of the Final Fantasy titles? It’s kind of different.

Have I mentioned how utterly addicting Photoshop gets?

The Process Continues

Times like this, I really wish I’d paid more attention in my Photoshop segments.

I have an old version of PS (maybe 6 or 7) that I used in college. I can do some basic effects and maipulations with it, but figuring out cover art and website stuff is…challenging. I may still hire a pro for the cover, but I’m taking a shot at it on my own. I don’t particularly want people on my covers, or anything more than maybe a landscape/galaxyscape. Heck, I’d be OK with just one color and some text for title and author, provided it all looked nice. In that case, it makes sense for me to try this on my own.

There’s plenty of tutorials around for me to practice with, and I’ve been dabbling with the light effects and text features on my own. So we’ll see. If I can’t pull it off to my standards, I’ll hire someone. In the meantime, it’s always a good skill set to learn…along with the CSS and XHTML.

Something like 19,000 words on That Zombie Story. Not sure how that happened, though it occurred this morning. My protagonist is sufficiently disgusted with the whole apocalyptic situation, even though they’ve managed to acquire the obligatory post-apocalyptic canine companion. They are also realizing the extent of the damage, just what sort of people tend to do well in these situations, and what they may have to eventually do in order to survive.

One of the over-arcing themes in this little series is how far one’s willing to go to live. When the veneer of civilization starts rubbing off, it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Throw in dead people running around and it’s a real mess.

I’m sitting here streaming Life After People on Netflix, and Juno keeps reacting to the sound effects and occasional explosions. Very amusing. The show itself is kind of sobering…at times, it’s hard to think about all the things we made–all the aspects that made us human–just disappearing forever. But it’s a good primer for the empty world the protagonists in That Zombie Story will inhabit.

Muddling Along

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t carry out my plans to go down to San Diego during the worst of the heat wave. Most of the area lost power for most of yesterday, and I would’ve been sitting there stewing about not being able to work.

I keep starting on entries and not finishing them. Ugh. Distracted freelancer is distracted.

I am in the process of reading two books — Rosamunde Pilcher’s Flowers in the Rain (a collection of short stories) and usually something on the Nook. I’ve gotten more used to reading on it, and I can see myself eventually using an e-reader for most fiction. With that said…I think the Kindle is a bit better. It’s lighter, the screen is much more eye-friendly. That’s not to say I’m not fond of my little wannabe tablet, but Nook Color still has a ways to go.

I would like to remark on the crappiness of formatting, though. What really irks me is that the crappy formatting I am seeing is largely coming from the Big Publishers. Yeah, some of the free stuff is shoddily formatted, but most of the indie authors I’ve purchased from have taken the time to format their offerings properly. Big Publishing clearly can’t be bothered. I saw it in the newest Martin book and I’m seeing it with additional titles. My mother said her Kindle version of The Help had some “weird stuff” in it, and after describing it to me over the phone, it also sounds like formatting issues.

There’s really no excuse to do this with bestsellers, Big Pub. You sit and slam indie authors for poor editing and appearance while perpetuating the same bad habits. At least practice what you preach.

After weeks of empty threats, my landlord is finally replacing the doors in our little complex…the contractor was out bright and early, and I awoke to the sounds of buzzing, hammering, and metal screeching. So much for sleeping in. Juno has responded to all this noise by BEING AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE, which would be charming if I wasn’t trying to actually get work done at a reasonable hour today.

Hit about 13k words on That Zombie Story last night. It’s fun to write, but it’s a slightly different kind of heroine for me. I tend to write the kickass alpha female in my longer works, but in the short stuff, my heroines seem more…sedate. Kate in Once is an effective hybrid–competent without flaunting her skills, I guess–but Vibeke, the narrator in That Zombie Story, has no survival/fighting skills whatsoever, so for the first section of the story she’s sort of floundering. She learns as she goes, but she’s one of the quietest of my female leads.

It can be a little bit of a pain when working out action scenes, but this was a decision I made when I first crafted the story. Much as I love a badass taking on the undead, nothing irks me more than someone with absolutely no training and/or survival skills shifting overnight into a badass to take on the zombie horde.

I have no logical endpoint to this particular entry, so I will just say…goodnight.


So, after two hours of fiddling, faddling, and tooth-gnashing, I took my (mostly) completely XHTML-formatted first six chapters and tossed them into Calibre, which converted them for my Nook. I transferred it to the Nook just to see if it worked.

My (pen) name on the screen for the first time.


The table of contents is basically a mystery, but everything else that I changed up (and it took more hand coding than I’d like) went through, and the shizzle looks good. 

What I learned from this headache-inducing experiment is that yes, I can do the formatting on my own. It will take all damn day, but I can do it. I’d rather not contemplate how long it will take to format an entire novel, rather than a little novella.

The magnificent chapter one.

What really smacked me with this particular story is that I use a lot of italics. They turn up for starship names, thoughts, and emphasis…and being a sci-fi story, there’s a lot of starship names. Replacing the italics was probably the biggest pain in the ass. The rest of it isn’t so bad, although you have to also replace all quotation marks (double and single), special characters, and emdashes. Not to mention stripping out previous formatting and…well. It’s a process. But again, it’s doable.

I shall spend some time figuring out this table of contents nonsense while the book is still with its respective readers. Then I can incorporate edits/changes into the Word doc and…do this process all over again. Oh, joy.

The Self-Pub Stigma

My uncle and brother were in town on Friday, and we got to talking about self-publishing. We particularly discussed putting together a volume of short stories just to test the waters, and see what happens.

I admit the thought has crossed my mind before, particularly with the success of those publishing to the Kindle/Nook formats. I almost feel odd going about it without at least trying the traditional route — I guess it feels like cheating? — and the backlash you see from published authors and the like.

With that said, I have two projects I’m seriously considering self-pubbing through Smashwords & Kindle, just to see what happens.

The first is an old zombie story I’m currently in the process of revising. I quite like the story, but it might be a little too weird to ever really pitch to any houses — I could see myself maybe trying Permuted Press with it, but that’s about it. That’s the project I’ve had in mind all along for self-pubbing, anyway. The process is free. I’ll probably hire an editor pal to give it a once-over, get the thing uploaded, and see what happens.

The other project is a non-fiction one. It’s only conceptual at the moment; something about online dating and the expectations we have. I started out intending to pitch something to one of the big magazines, but then realized the project was bigger. I might still chop it up into an article to pitch it, but right now I’m thinking of compiling my 2011 efforts into a sort of chronicle of online dating. Not a how-to guide, but maybe just “This is what I did; your mileage may vary.”

I’m exhausted. Better blogging tomorrow, I promise.