Tag Archives: software

The Best of You

…Or, “Self-publishing, Mariachi-style”

I’ve been (re-)reading Robert Rodriguez’s books Rebel Without a Crew and RoadRacers: the Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick. This must be my third or fourth time through Rebel and my second through RoadRacers, and it finally struck me: self-publishing is actually doing what Robert Rodriguez did, but with the printed format instead of films.

Let me explain: Robert Rodriguez made his first movie, El Mariachi, for $7,000. He was the entire crew. He conceived it, wrote it, shot it, edited it, and managed to get one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood to sell it to Columbia Pictures — even though that was not his original plan.

Well, the concept, writing, shooting and editing were, but he never planned on the movie being released theatrically. His original plan was to shoot three movies directly for the Mexican home video market, make all his mistakes there, and then show up in Hollywood ready to take on a “real” movie.

Self-publishing is doing the same thing. We are conceiving, writing, editing, formatting, and submitting our works to be published; either in eBook or print form, or possibly both. We ARE the crew. We’re learning as we go, and we’re saving a ton of money. And then, maybe… MAYBE… an agent or publisher will notice us and give us our big break.

Or not. Either way, the stories get out there for people to read, right?

In his books, Rodriguez talks about shooting “Mariachi-style.” This means taking inventory of your assets and working from there. When he wrote El Mariachi, he knew he had access to certain places for filming, specific guns, which type of camera. He knew his limitations and worked within them. Anything else would have cost more money.

With self-publishing, you do the same thing. If you have access to a computer with Microsoft Word, that’s great. You don’t have to pay extra. If not, use one of the free programs that are compatible with Word.

Need help formatting? Decide on your book’s size before you start, then download the free template for it from CreateSpace or Lulu or wherever you choose to publish.

If you’re designing your own cover, this means either utilizing your own artistic talent or that of someone you know who will work with you at a substantial discount — or better yet, free. In my case, it means going out with my sister and nephew to take pictures, then deciding which one fits my idea for the book cover.

One of the things I’ve talked about on this blog is free software, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My first two books were written using Microsoft Office. For my third, I’ve swapped over to Atlantis, which is portable and free so I can use it on any Windows-based computer with a USB port that I have access to. I will still do my final layout in Word — but that will also be free, because I already have it. If my computer isn’t working, I can do it at the public library.

The photo editing software I use is free (and a lot of it is also portable). Between FotoSketcher, PhotoScape, and GIMP, I’ve got it covered. I use doPDF to create the final cover art and book file for CreateSpace.

The one place I fall down in Mariachi-style publishing is in self-publicity. While Robert Rodriguez is a master of putting himself out there, I’m still not at that point. I know that if I want to be more successful I’ll have to get over it. Or get over myself. Whichever it takes.

All I know is that I’m having fun. And if writing isn’t fun, you’re not doing it for the right reasons.

(Oh, by the way — that’s a Foo Fighters reference in the title.)

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Filed under Notes from the Author, Publicity

I’ve Got An Idea…

(Yay! I finally get to reference a Swirling Eddies song!)

Me again.  I wanted to take a minute to introduce a piece of freeware I’ve started using to help plot out my stories. It’s called Freemind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page) and it’s mind-mapping software.

I know. It sounds like something a psychiatrist would recommend, and while there are those who are nodding their heads, silently saying “Yep. I knew it. He’s a basket-case” — it’s not like that. It’s just software to help you brainstorm, and then organize those thoughts into something coherent.

It’s outlining on steroids.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. Obviously, I’m not going to use my own story so I don’t give anything away to people waiting for the next book, so let’s fall back on the popular example: Shakespeare. And for chuckles, I’ll use one of my favorite plays, Much Ado About Nothing.

Just for the purposes of illustration, we’ll focus on the settings of each Act and Scene, rather than the storyline, since that’s a bit time consuming. In Freemind, you simply create a new Mindmap, and then name the “New Mindmap” icon for your main idea/story title.

Add a “Child Node” for the first scene/act by pressing the INSERT key and name that.

While the “Child Node” is highlighted, pressing INSERT again adds a “Sibling Node” for the first item of action (or in this case, the location of Scene 1).


When you’re finished with one act/scene, click back on the main idea and press INSERT again to add another “Child Node.”


Continue this until you’ve gotten all of your ideas out.


You can drag ideas from one node to another or rearrange them within the story structure.

Once you’re completely happy with it, you can save it as an image, HTML file, or — this is my favorite part — you can export it as an Open Office Document.

Why is that my favorite part? Well, when you open that document in OpenOffice or Word, this is what you get:


That’s right. It’s an OUTLINE. You can copy and paste that outline into Scrivener and then use it to write your story.

This software is totally awesome, totally free, and I highly recommend you give it a try.

Until next time…

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Filed under Notes from the Author

Everyday I Write the Book

New year, new blog entry titles. The Beatles may still crop up from time to time, but today this one popped into my head.

Cue the Elvis Costello music.

I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks going through every story (published and unpublished) set in Newtonberg and making note of every person, place, organization, or event mentioned. I’ve had to work through some contradictions between one story and another, and I even discovered a glaring error in one of the stories that has already been published, prompting yet another revision. Still, I think it has all been worth it.

I just wanted to take a minute to tell you about the program I’ve been using to do this: Scrivener, from Literature & Latte. So far, this program is well worth the cost. It is available for both Windows ($40) and Mac OS X ($45). Education licenses are $5 less if you’re a student or educator.

I installed it as a portable version on my USB drive so I can keep it with me at all times. The interface is pretty intuitive, but if you run into problems there are tutorials and help available, including a fairly in-depth user’s manual in PDF format. There is also a companion book, Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez. (Note that I have not seen the book and mention it for informational purposes.)

After setting up a project, you can add character sketches or settings sketches. It was easy to create an additional section for other things, such as for events and organizations. In my case, I have sketches for the local churches, boy scout troops, etc., and which characters are associated with each one.

One of the best parts is that you can copy these characters/settings/etc. between projects, so when I start the next batch of stories they will already be there for me to reference and add to. And since I finished going through the last story last weekend, I think I’m just about ready to do that.

Just about the only thing this program didn’t do for me was make a map of the town, but I’m working on that. Once that’s complete, I’ll be ready to start writing again, and I will be able to tell you about my experience with using Scrivener to actually write the next book.

Stay tuned…

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Filed under Notes from the Author

Come Together

So I was ready to re-create my book cover.  I downloaded a template from CreateSpace and prepared to edit it in GIMP.

This is what I got:

Book cover Template from CreateSpace

What was I supposed to do with this?!

Reading further on the CreateSpace Website, I discovered that this was to be the first layer of my new image.  I was to place my book cover elements over it in new layers, turn off this layer, and then export the my elements as a print-ready PDF document with embedded fonts.


I had little to no problem putting my own book cover elements over it.  It seemed that GIMP wanted to add a new layer for anything I added by default, so that was no problem.  Turning off the original layer?  Not that big a deal, either.

I started by adding a solid background the same size as the final book cover.  That way I could lay my cover and back cover elements over it and any uncovered areas would be the same color.  I just had to mentally remember not to put any elements in the lower right-hand corner of the back cover.  I still wanted to be able to see my guidelines, so once I had the background lined up, I turned it off until I was almost finished.

Although CreateSpace told me I wouldn’t need a spine for a book fewer than 100 pages or so, I created one anyway since there was a place for it on the template.  At the end of my editing, I eventually exported two versions — one with the spine and one without.  I submitted the one with the spine first, and figured if they rejected it, all I had to do was submit the other one.

For the back cover, I cropped my solid background to create an image the same size as my front cover art.  I saved this under a different name and used PhotoScape to create text blocks in the same way I added my author and title to the cover.  Then I layered the final result onto this image.   Then I saved the whole thing as a GIMP project file so I could edit it later if I needed to without having to create all of the layers again.

I was ready to export it as a PDF with embedded fonts.  Not as easy as I thought.

First of all, GIMP doesn’t have a function to export as a PDF.  I had a PDF printer installed on my computer already (CutePDF).  I used this on a regular basis to print online payment receipts and other things to PDF.   But I didn’t think it embedded the fonts.  (At least, there was no option to do so.  If it does, it does it without asking.)

I needed to be sure the fonts were embedded.  Once again, I’m cheap. (Do I really need to keep saying that?)  Free is best for me.

After a little research, I came up with another option. doPDF.  It does everything CutePDF does, but it also offers the option of embedding fonts. And (say it with me now): it’s free!

The only lingering question in my mind was this: is printing to PDF and exporting as a PDF the same thing?  Logic tells me “yes”, since you end up with a PDF file either way.  But we’re talking about computers here: logic doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it means.  All I could do was try.  My final book cover looked like this:

Final cover image - CreateSpace

The good news?  My cover was accepted, somewhat.  They recognized the PDF format and the embedded fonts.  CreateSpace removed the spine because my book was so short. But my first submission didn’t look right in the digital proof.  My cover art was too far to the right and was cut off.

I opened the GIMP project file and moved the cover layer over to the left a bit.  I printed a new PDF and uploaded it.  This time it was accepted.

The digital proof looked great.  I was ready to order a print copy of the proof for final review.

Next: Adventures in Kindle publishing, and a hiccup…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

Paperback Writer

Once the eBook was officially available, I took a week or so to let my friends and family know about it.  I was proud of the book and I was glad it was out there.  But as a life-long book lover and a library employee, I longed to hold the book in my hand.  A real, physical book that could sit on a shelf, gather dust, and live on long after I was gone.  A book that might somehow find its way into a used book store one day, where other people who never even met me might stumble across it.

I knew I couldn’t afford the actual self-publishing route, where you have to buy a certain number of copies.  For another thing, even if I could afford to do that, I have nowhere to store 100 or more copies of my book and no idea of how to distribute them.  But I could offer publish-on-demand.  Since the main purpose was to get the book out there, royalties weren’t a concern for me.

For various reasons (not the least of which was a built-in distribution through Amazon), I settled on CreateSpace. Since I already had the book formatted, all I would have to do would be to upload that and expand the cover a bit, right?  I mean, I had the front cover all ready to go.  I just needed to add a spine and the information for the back.




In a word — no.

First of all, CreateSpace has its own specifications for text formatting.  First you have to decide on which size you want for your final book. I decided on 5.5″ x 8.5″ (this is a standard trade paperback size).  Then you have to use one of their templates to format/re-format your book to that size.

This actually didn’t turn out to be that bad.  In fact, I think the formatting that I ended up with at the end of it was laid out much better than my original eBook.  I was able to add special dividing pages for each story and section.  I was able to utilize an actual Table of Contents. The pages had actual page numbers.  My title page looked like a real title page. My copyright page looked like a real copyright page.  Instead of just a Word document, it started to look like a real book to me.

But as for the cover? Well, they have an online cover creator, but it did not lend itself well to the way I wanted my cover to look.  I liked my cover.  Their online cover creator insists on adding the text for you; since the title and author were already part of my artwork, I couldn’t use it.

Luckily, they did offer templates for book covers, as well. You could download the template, layer your cover elements over it, and then save the whole thing as a PDF. The only thing was, I’d have to take the time to actually learn to use GIMP.

This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought…

Next: Creating the book cover, part deux…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg