Sunday, 6 March 2016

Interview with Downing College Magazine

I was one of three crime authors interviewed for the magazine of my old college (Downing College, Cambridge) recently. We talked about my life in journalism, 1980s pop music and the three 1980s murder mystery novels that I've published. The magazine will eventually go online (it's not available yet) and I'll post a link when it does.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Using Style Sheets


When you are formatting books for either eBook or printed book publication, you should be sure to set up style sheets. A style sheet contains named font and paragraph formatting options that can be selectively applied to your text. Here I am assuming you are using Microsoft Word for writing your documents but style sheets can also be used with other word processors and Desktop Publishing packages. If you are not familiar with Word style sheets, you may want to follow Microsoft’s tutorial.

If you haven’t already got a style sheet, you need to create one – just load a blank document and save it as a Word template. Then set up styles by right-clicking text with the format you want and, from the mouse menu, select Styles, Save as New Quick Style. Make sure the full styles palette is visible. From Word’s Home ribbon page, click the little arrow-box at the bottom right of the style palette (the thing showing all the character styles) to dock it at the side of your screen.


Now, when you want to modify a style, click the arrow to its right in the docked palette and select Modify.


Make changes in the dialog box and click the Format button to select other categories of style attribute that you may want to change. I don’t plan on explaining all the options here so if you aren’t already familiar with styles, you may want to spend some time experimenting with the possibilities.

Important: when you make a change, be sure that the option ‘New documents based on this template’ is selected. If not, the style changes will not be persisted for use in other documents. You want at least one template for use in multiple documents so this is really important.


Once you’ve got a template, you can apply it to new documents by loading it in this way. Select File, Options. Click Add-ins. In the drop-down list at the bottom-left, pick Templates. Then click Go, click Attach, browse to your template and select it. Make sure ‘automatically update documents styles’ is checked. Click Open. The template will now be applied to your document and the text will be reformatted if the template styles match the existing formatting. If not, you will need to select your text, then select the various style names from the palette to apply them.

For basic Kindle formatting, most style options are ignored so you shouldn’t need to spend too long setting them up. The Kindle Formatting web site also has lots of useful information: http://kindleformatting.com/

For a printed book (for example, via CreateSpace or Lulu), you need to devote a lot more care to formatting. Every formatting change you make will be reproduced exactly on the printed page so don’t skip the details. Just to give you some guidance on how to create your body text, you should either make changes to the Normal style or (which is, I think, better), create a new style based on the Normal style. I use a style called BodyCopy. For most books, a Serif font (a ‘curly’ variety) is the best choice and either Palatino and Garamond are two favourites.


The font I’ve used in my novels is Garamond, full justified, with a line spacing of exactly 14 points and a first-line indent of 0.5 inches (set these options from the Modify Styles dialog – you’ll need to click the Format button and the bottom and choose Paragraph). I’ll discuss this more fully in another article.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Formatting a Kindle Book For Lulu or CreateSpace

So you’ve published your book to Kindle. Now you want to release it as a paperback. The two main ‘print-on-demand’ options you might consider are CreateSpace or Lulu. The main advantage of CreateSpace is that it’s affiliated with Amazon so getting your book listed on Amazon will (presumably) be fairly straightforward. Lulu has the benefit that the company prints books internationally – not just in the USA – so if you want make it available to buyers in other countries (and as a UK author, I certainly do!), Lulu is a better choice. Bear in mind that your Lulu books will be listed on Amazon too as long as you given them an ISBN number (this is available free from Lulu).

Whichever service you choose, the next task you face is getting your book formatted for print. I am assuming here that you have written the book in Microsoft Word. If you have used another word processor or a Desktop Publishing program, the tasks you need to undertake will, of course, be rather different, though the principles are the same.

Traditional Kindle books have very simple formatting without fancy layout and named fonts. To make your text look good in print, you need to put some effort into reformatting your text to fit onto a specific page size, use named fonts, apply formatting effects such as indents, page numbering or section numbering and so forth. In this article, I’ll explain the first step – getting your text to fit onto the page.

First, decide on the size of your book. My book is a novel and the standard size (on Lulu anyway) is 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall which is called US Trade. Lulu supplies pre-formatted page ‘templates’ in various sizes and I’d suggest that you begin by downloading one of these from here: http://connect.lulu.com/t5/Cover-Formatting/What-dimensions-should-my-book-cover-images-have/ta-p/33279 The CreateSpace templates are found here: https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/InteriorPDF.jsp

As I am publishing to Lulu, the rest of this article describes what I did using the Lulu template. I would expect the process to be similar for CreateSpace but I have no personal experience of that.

First, bear in mind that, while Lulu and CreateSpace call these documents ‘templates’ they are not what Word calls templates. In Word a template has the extension ‘.dotx’ or (in older versions of Word) ‘.dot’. A Word template is used as a repository for reusable styling information that can be loaded into one or more existing documents. The ‘templates’ supplied by Lulu and CreateSpace are ordinary Word (.doc) documents. If you haven’t yet written your book you could, I suppose, start writing it into one of these empty documents. In my case, my book already existed. I decided to use the downloaded ‘template’ as a reference guide. I examined its page-sizing properties and simply copied these into my existing document (actually I first made a new copy of my novel's document because I didn’t want any changes I made to affect the one that was already formatted for Kindle).

So, without more ado. This is what I did. I loaded Lulu’s US Trade template document and then selected Page Layout, Size, More Paper Sizes.


A dialog appeared showing me the Custom size details. These are the settings that were shown in each of the three tabbed pages.




I made a note of all these settings and just copied them into the same ‘Page Setup’ dialog pages for the document containing my novel. Then I saved it. The end result is that my text was formatted to fit on the pages of a 6” x 9” book. You would, of course, need to copy different settings if you are printing to a different size of book.

That’s just the start, however. I next had to apply a whole range of formatting options to make the text look nice on the printed page. I’ll have more to say about that in another article.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mobipocket Creator JavaScript Problems

I just uploaded the third novel in my 1980s New Romantic Murder Mysteries series today (it’s called ‘Death Wears Sequins’, by the way, and, by Jove! it’s a damn’ riveting read!).

All was going well when suddenly – eek! – Mobipocket Creator threw a wobbly. I’m using Mobipocket Creator 4.2 installed in the advanced mode rather than the simplified ‘Home’ version. You can download a copy here: http://www.mobipocket.com/.

I was just in the process of adding the ‘guides’ for my Cover image and Table Of Contents as I’ve explained in a previous post when suddenly a dialog box popped up displaying an inscrutable message telling me that an unexpected JavaScript error had occurred. Well, that had me flummoxed. Until, that is, I recalled some comments on this very blog from people who’d come across the same problem.

A quick scan though the comments soon found the answer. The commenter named krakondack wrote: “I've found the solution to my problem, so if anyone else gets the problem, all you need to do is uninstall Internet Explorer 9 in "Installed Updates" section of Control Panel's list of software. There's some kind of conflict there, and uninstalling 9 simply reverts your system to IE 8 which then works fine.”

OK, so I loaded up the Control Panel from the Windows Start menu (this is on Windows 7), opened Programs and Features and searched the list for Internet Explorer. The damn’ thing isn’t there! If I’d read krakondack’s comment more carefully, I might not have been so surprised; but I didn’t and I was. After a bit of creating Googling, I eventually discovered that in order to uninstall Internet Explorer 9 you have to click the View Installed Updates link at the left of the Programs and Features window. Then you scroll down until you find a group called Microsoft Windows and, lurking somewhere in the list there is the Windows Internet Explorer 9 item. Right-click this and select Uninstall. When it’s finished, reboot the PC and Internet Explorer will have changed back to version 8.

Having done this, when I used Mobipocket Creator, all is well. Don’t ask me what it is about version 9 of Internet Explorer (IE9) that cause the problem because I don’t know. And, since I hardly ever use Internet Explorer (these days I generally use Chrome) I don’t much care.

If you do use IE9, you will have problems. Probably the simplest way around them is to use a different Kindle-book generator. Many people like Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) which, like Mobipocket, is free. I’ve tried Calibre and it seems fine but I prefer to use Mobipocket Creator for the simple reason that I’ve already fought my battles with it and now I know how to get myself out of most of the tight corners that initially baffled me. Maybe I’ll try Calibre for my next Kindle book. For now, though, I’m happy with Mobipocket Creator – and Internet Explorer 8!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Waterstone's to launch e-reader - is this good news...?

I'm really not at all sure that this is a good idea! Waterstones is a traditional High Street bookshop in the UK. They don't have a great track history of selling on the Internet and, frankly, why should anyone who wants an eBook buy from them?

This also begs the question; What format will they use? I remember the bad old days of video recorders when everyone said VHS was bad, Betamax was better and Video 2000 was the best. Me? I bought Video 2000. As a result, I couldn't play any commercial tapes on it, since nobody was releasing any. So: great technology, next to no content.

The Kindle eReader format is a bit like VHS. It;'s pretty damn' poor but it's there - and there are huge numbers of people are using it. It will have to be improved to support better formatting for things like graphics, programming code and equations. And that will doubtless happen in time. But if other people release eReaders, they should adopt a well-established and widely supported format. If Waterstones do adopt an established (Mobi/Kindle) format and they sell their hardware cheaply they may have a success. But if they try to lock readers into their hardware so that they are obliged to buy eBooks in a proprietary format from Waterstones's stores, they might as well forget it. It ain't gonna happen....


BBC News - Waterstone's to launch e-reader

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Glam Assassin - an excerpt

YouTube videos give authors a great way to promote their books. My latest is a reading of the opening chapter of my latest 1980s murder mystery, The Glam Assassin. And here it is!