Annette's blog

Formatting for Dummies

In three days, I will self-publish my second book, Bone Girl.

Unlike Celebration House, this novel required much more of me than just writing and editing. Because it’s self-published and I have a budget of, oh, let’s see, NOTHING, I did all of the work myself. When I say work, I mean writing, editing, revising, proofreading and my least favorite activity of all time, formatting. In fact, I’ve spent nearly every free minute of the last week learning to format my book. (Note – the amazing cover art was the work of Jason Gurley. Wouldn’t it make a great movie poster? I think so too).

Because I am naive. I believed all of the websites when they said how simple it is to self-publish an e-book. Easy! Just download your manuscript in a .doc or .docx format. Yeah. Well, no.

You start with Smashwords because they will distribute your e-book to many of the major retailers, such as Apple, Kobo, iBook and Nook. But Smashwords’ “meat grinder” as they call their computer program and no, I’m not making this up – forbids any extraneous formatting in the document. Thus, the first thing you must do is copy and paste your manuscript to a Notepad document, then copy and paste it back to a word document. The nearest I can figure, and I read those instructions many, many times, this “nuclear” treatment removes any underlining and thus problematic formatting. But it removes a few other things too like indents, italics, chapter breaks, line spacing, etc.

Then there’s Kindle. Be sure any words you want centered do not have an indent or they will look, well, weird, and, uh, off-center. Also, pages must be separated by a hard return, a page break.

Not so on Nook Press, which is Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platform. Nook requires a section break, so kindly delete all of the page breaks from the manuscript for Kindle and insert section breaks for the manuscript for Nook. My Aunt Mary Rose is waiting for this book to be available on Nook, so by golly, I’m gonna make sure it’s there.

Oh, and then there’s the print version. That manuscript must be in a .pdf file. I haven’t even started on that project yet. You see, creating a print version takes money and I’m rubbing two nickels together. Because honestly, I could have paid someone to do much of the work for me. But, no. I’m too cheap.

Or perhaps, to be brutally honest, I’m too broke. Three days ago, I tiptoed into my bedroom and as my husband was just starting to wake, I whispered in his ear, “Honey, I just spent $275 on our ISBNs.” His response: “What’s an ISBN?”

An ISBN is a number assigned to every book, fiction or nonfiction, to help booksellers keep track of inventory.To clarify, Bone Girl requires three ISBNs: one for the e-book, one for the print version and one for the audio book. Oh, yes, it’s going to be available in audio format also. Exciting, isn’t it?

I know I sound whiny as I relate the ugly albeit boring details of how I’ve spent the last week, but I take this treasure away: I can do this. With patience and perseverance, I can learn to format an e-book. Maybe you can too…

Bone Girl is not going to be perfect. At least, not this first edition. There may be too much white space or a chapter heading that looks a little drunk, but my hope is that readers will be too engrossed in the story to say, “Holy buckets! She’s got an extra return on this page.”

And this sense of accomplishment, wow! It’s like a drug. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but every time I learn one more technical step, even if it’s a basic one like composing a page on my blog with one column rather than two, well, I just glow. I’m so proud that this 45-year-old dog learned a new trick. I hope you feel this way when you overcome a tech challenge.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon templates that authors can purchase to help format their e-books and print versions. I plan on using one for the print version of Bone Girl. They’re fairly inexpensive – about $30-$40. Sounds like a real timesaver. Ah, heck, where’s the fun in that?

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: Letting it go.

Annette's blog

Stars and Stripes

At my daughter’s last concert at Mirror Lake Middle School, Travis Harrington invited parents to come up onto the stage and join their kids in a rousing rendition of Stars and Stripes. For my husband, Chris, a band teacher himself and a professional bone player, this sounded like fun. For me, who hadn’t played the flute in years, Stars and Stripes was a tough cookie to break. Here’s the video of that performance. The tall, hairy trombone player in the back wearing a blue shirt is my husband, Christopher Poole.

Annette's blog

Revisiting beginning band class

When I first started writing Bone Girl, I knew it had been way too long since I’d sat in a beginning band class. But I felt to truly know my character, I needed to do so.

I contacted my children’s band teacher, Travis Harrington. I asked him if I could sit in and listen during his beginning band classes. Much to my delight, he said yes. Travis teaches band at Mirror Lake Middle School in Chugiak, Alaska.

It was intriguing to meet his students and find myself the object of their curiosity. Who is she? they whispered. What is she doing here? My memory is faulty, but I think one young girl even raised her hand and asked Mr. Harrington why exactly was I there.

I jotted down notes on what the kids wore, what they said, how they sat, how they held their instruments. Everything! I hid in the back of the classroom, by the trombone players, because my character, Josey, is a bone-player. Note: that’s the “bone” in the title. It’s nothing to do with human bones, and everything to do with Josey’s instrument.

As I sat and listened, I realized that Mr. Harrington, astute and experienced though he was, couldn’t be in every section at every minute. Who could? I heard kids whispering and giggling. I heard snippets of conversation, and I saw that band class can be about a whole lot more than learning to make music.

My favorite Mr. Harrington quote: “I do NOT want to hear anyone placing Hot Cross Buns. That song is so last week.” My second favorite quote is one he would start and the kids finished. I think it was meant to keep them on task. He’d say, “Meanwhile…” and point at a sign on his wall, and they would finish, “…back at the ranch.”

This was in the fall of 2011. Those students are now finishing up eighth grade at Mirror Lake Middle School. Bone Girl will be published in March, and as I revise and polish, I think of those kids and I relish the privilege of watching them learn to be musicians. Thank you.

Below is a snippet of Bone Girl with all credit due to Mr. Harrington and his students:

“Okay. We’ll stop there today,” Mrs. Casey said. She struggled to be heard over the noise of class ending. Mouthpieces plucked out. Horns dismantled. Brass banged against music stands. Cases slammed shut. 

“Remember, the only way to get better is to practice, so if you’re not practicing, you’re not going to get any better,” she told them.

“And one more thing, music should be performed, so don’t hide yourself away in your bedroom. Practice in front of your family so that when it’s concert time, you won’t be scared to play for an audience.”

“Mrs. Casey?”

She turned and saw Tommy Tipps holding his saxophone.

“The mouthpiece is stuck again,” he said, handing her the instrument.

She took it from him.

“Third time this week, Tommy. Are you sure you don’t want to play the cymbals?”

Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, the glamorous life of an indie author, or how exactly do I format this book?

Annette's blog

How would you describe that? I don’t know

In less than a week, I hope to send Bone Girl to my editor, Maudeen Wachsmith. Now comes the hard part. It’s time to fix the widgets. Or more aptly, to describe them.

I’ve got about six scenes I need to fill out in the manuscript and because I’m awful at writing description, I’ve procrastinated this task.

I blame my journalism background. When you work for newspapers, you learn to keep descriptions brief. Only the facts, ma’am. So, when my journalism professor critiqued my manuscript and wrote, “Describe Missouri during winter here,” he touched upon my biggest weakness: writing description.

The problem is, I can see it. I know exactly what Missouri looks like in the winter. Patches of dirty snow cover dead grass. The trees are bare, their branches encased in ice. Sleeping crop fields lay covered in snow, like great vats of chocolate chip ice cream. See. I’ve been there.

Or when he asks what Josey’s house looks like, I want to tell him: like my Grandmother Obermeier’s house outside of Lucas, Iowa. You know, you’ve been there lots of time.

But he hasn’t. I’m willing to bet that for all the millions (Hey, I can dream!) of people who read my book, maybe three will have been in that house: Aunt Mary Rose, Uncle Jack and my brother, Kevin.

Meanwhile, I see my author friends post on Facebook, “I wrote 5,000 words today! Woo-hoo.” And here I sit, searching for the words to describe a beginning band Christmas concert.

This reminds me of the annual inventory of my father’s lumberyard when I was a kid. Talk about the devil being in the details. Everything, I mean everything, had to be tallied once a year.

Like writing this novel, it started great. I was paid the grand sum of $1 an hour, and we had doughnuts on the first day. But it quickly tumbled downhill from there. Because you would be amazed at how much stuff is in a lumberyard. Screws, tools, nuts and bolts, light fixtures, paint, paintbrushes, wooden dowel rods, nails…you get the idea. Lots and lots of stuff. All of it to be counted. By day 2, I looked for a place to hide. $1 an hour just wasn’t worth it. Alas, I was found and encouraged to return to task.

My father’s business is no more. The last time I visited my hometown, Drake Lumberyard was a payday loan office. But this need to focus, to stay on task, remains. And this time, there are no doughnuts or lucrative wages. Just a fierce determination to make this book the best it can be and send it out into the world.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: I go undercover at Mirror Lake Middle School.