Posts tagged ‘proofreading’

All that self-publishing stuff I've looked into

A while back, my sister asked me for some information on the self-publishing options I’ve been investigating. My response went into more detail than I expected, and seemed beneficial to more people than her, so I finally took some time to edit it for my blog.

I have found three ‘legitimate’ services that handle the print on demand process for you:


Createspace is run by Amazon; a known company. They are by far the cheapest, but the drawback is they only do paperback books, and the smallest book is 8×5, which is larger than your average
pocketbook. I used them for the Arch Linux Handbook. Lulu is the oldest company, they do LOTS of different book styles including hard cover, but they are expensive. I didn’t look at unibook too much, they are quite new to the self-publishing business, but I think they’ve been around
for a long time in the standard printing business. I will probably use them for hardcover books.

All three are ‘free’ in that there are no up-front costs, but Lulu and unibook are ‘expensive’ in that you have to sell the book for much more than a bookstore typically charges to cover their costs. Createspace has a thing where if you pay them $40, it costs about half price per book, which means you can earn that $40 back in a few sales. Apparently Lulu, and probably Unibook, will do a bit of “massaging” to get your book into the proper format; In contrast, Createspace expects it to be copy-ready and it will be printed exactly how you send it.

All three services allow colour pages, but those are more expensive.

Createspace lists your book on for free (I don’t think it lists on or similar international sites though) I think Lulu also has an option to list your book on, but you may have to pay extra.

Every book published has an ISBN associated with it. That’s a number to uniquely identify the book. All three of those services will give you an ISBN, but that means they “own” the ISBN. That doesn’t matter too much, but it has one drawback. There is a “catalogue” of books that bookstore owners across North America consult when they want to custom-order a book. If your book isn’t in that catalogue, your book can’t typically be ordered from bookstores. The catch is that only the owner of the book’s ISBN can put a book in the catalogue. Createspace will not do this with ISBNs they own; I’m not sure about the other companies. So if you are writing a book that you want in bookstores (instead of distributing it yourself or selling only online through Amazon) you may want to get your own ISBN.

In the US, it costs $150 to get an ISBN, but I read that it is free in Canada if you go through Library and Archives Canada. I’ve chosen to just use the free CreateSpace ISBN for now. If a book becomes popular enough to warrant marketing it to bookstores, I can always print a second edition of the title.

As far as actually writing the book goes, I recommend using OpenOffice. Its smart about formatting pages and layout, once you learn how to use it. That’s a big “once”, but its worth it. There are some terrific, “how to write a book in OpenOffice,” tutorials on Google. In addition, OpenOffice natively exports to PDF in a way that CreateSpace, and likely the other companies, will find acceptable.

Some things to keep in mind when formatting a book that aren’t immediately obvious:
* left and right pages need to have different margins because the “inside” margin needs to be bigger to accommodate the spine.
* typically, page numbers go on the ‘outside’ of the header or footer — ie: left side on left pages, right side on right pages
* New chapters always start on a right-hand page; sometimes a blank page on the left needs to be inserted.

I’m not sure how Lulu and Unibook do covers, but I would guess its similar to Createspace. You tell Createspace how many pages the book will have and they send you a template for Photoshop (Gimp will open it) that has the entire cover: back, spine, and front in one file, such that it will “wrap around” the book. You put the graphics and words on there in the right place (there are guidelines) and then send it to them. I suggest putting all the texts and images on different layers so they
are easy to move around, hide, and remove.

You also have the option of publishing ebooks. Createspace has a feature that allows you to publish a book to the Amazon Kindle, an ebook reader. There are also free programs that allow you to publish a book in a wide variety of popular ebook formats. I used one for Linux
called Calibre. There’s a lot of leeway in ebooks; there’s nothing wrong with publishing it as a pdf, web page, or word document if you so wish, but most ebook reading software expect them in one of a few specific formats.

At this time, I can’t provide much information on the marketing side of things. Marketing is definitely the hard part, but its all about knowing your audience and targetting them.

Releasing your book under a Creative Commons license will make it more appealing to a wider target audience. You lose some control over how it is distributed, but that means other people may distribute and market it for you.

Finally, some advertising: I offer proofreading, editing, formatting, and cover layout services if you aren’t comfortable doing any part of the formatting or layout. It really depends how well you know writing and image processing programs; I find it quite simple, but its taken me years of fighting with Open Office and its alternatives until I can finally managed to force it to cooperate.

Style As Communication

A couple weeks ago I read an article. I don’t remember the title, links, topic, or most of the content of the article; indeed, I likely should never have read it. I would have forgotten it altogether except one suggestion that you should ensure the signature on e-mails sent from your blackberry or iphone says “Sent from my blackberry/iphone”. In theory, this allows the recipient to know you were on a mobile when you sent the message and they can excuse the brevity and grammatical errors that tend to occur when typing a message on such devices.

When I receive a one-line comment followed by a second line stating ‘sent from my Blackberry’, my first thought is not, “Ah, they were mobile, they weren’t able to type a polite response”. To the contrary, I tend to think, “They couldn’t be bothered to go back to the office and send me a well-crafted reply. How can I trust they even thought about the question at hand?”

The thing is, how things are worded sends as much information as the words themselves. Critics of the Internet age have long pointed out that face-to-face communication is better because you can pick up on so many non-verbal cues in their gestures, posture, tone, and expression. Yet nobody realizes that text-based communication also says plenty about you and about the message you are conveying.

While we are instructed to ensure our cover letters and resumes have no grammatical errors because it makes a bad impression, in day-to-day business or interpersonal dealings, nobody worries over such things. We’ve all seen the despicable language that has evolved to support the character limits in Twitter and text messaging. It makes the most erudite communicators look like fools.

The full qwerty keyboard on my HTC dream is terrific, but I don’t get anywhere near the 100WPM I can get on my computer keyboard. Messages typed on the mobile can be painful to compose. I always put forth the effort to ensure my grammar is correct and the style is the way I want to sound. It takes me a while and I can’t supply that impressive immediate reply that mobile devices are famous for. But I can give you a hand-crafted response styled ‘just so’, to give you exactly the interpretation I wish you to receive. Chances are I won’t send the message until I get home and review it at a full keyboard where edits are easier.

One can argue that putting an emphasis on grammar and style is a waste of time and the world is clearly learning to evaluate only the content of messages. This is a shame. It restricts our ability to communicate. Properly wielded, style can say so much more than mere content ever will. Like pictures, style can be worth a thousand words. Instead of abandoning style altogether, we should cultivate it, use it as a secondary channel, its own medium of communication.

As a fitting example, compare the following two messages I received recently when trying to sell a desk online:

CALL ME. 416-###-####


Hi I am interested in the corner desk you are advertising on craigslist. What are the dimension of the desk? And where in Toronto would I be picking it up from?

When I read these messages, I felt that Emily was more likely to be truly interested in the desk. I felt she would follow through on any commitment she made. I felt she could be believed and trusted. I felt she would let me know if she was going to be late or couldn’t make her appointment. I felt she was friendly and would be a pleasure to deal with.

Emily is now the happy new owner of my corner desk.

She only typed three short sentences, but gave me several paragraphs of information. The former request only typed two words and a phone number. They also gave me several paragraphs of information.

I never called.

The Lost Art Of Proofreading

I am an amateur proofreader; I would like to be a professional proofreader. To date, however, all my work has been volunteer and includes several MSc theses, a few academic papers, numerous Arch Linux newsletters, and two unpublished novels. I enjoy the process of proofreading, of axing unnecessary words, of caressing, cajoling, or cursing the right sound into a written sentence. You see, proofreading is not just about grammar. Its about cadence, flow, style, and rhythm. Above all, its about communication.

And it’s a lost art. I estimate that at least 90 percent of articles on the Internet these days are posted without review or revision. While this is obvious in youtube comments and web forum postings, it also includes countless articles by professional journalists from well-known news agencies. Indeed, some of the worst writing I read each day arrives via Google news results. Independently authored blog articles may be better; they can range from quick thoughtless posts to elegantly crafted prose. Sadly, the majority of authors simply write their article and forget about it.

We are always in a hurry to get information to the masses. News isn’t news if its not new. Why proofread when the information you’re posting is going to be irrelevant in a few hours? First Post! McDonalds has taken over our writing. I want that burger in 43 seconds. Don’t worry about the taste, just serve it quicky. No no, I don’t care if its healthy, I don’t have time to think about that. I’m in a hurry, you see.

I have to get this article posted before my coffee cools down.

It’s a race, a race to provide new information or insights before anyone else. A race that ignores, discards, even condemns quality. A race that defines our society.

Have you ever read something and thought to yourself, “I love how that’s worded. It’s beautiful”? Possibly not — I could be peculiar that way. More often, though, I end up thinking, “What a lovely sentiment; too bad they butchered the wording.” There need to be more beautiful essays. Essays that are a joy to read, and not just a chore to understand.

Style matters.

In four posts to this blog, I have covered an introduction, a software concept, a technical article, and a social discussion. These articles have but one thing in common: I wrote and posted each one immediately. I didn’t proofread them. Sure I read through them once, maybe twice before clicking “Publish”, but that’s not proofreading. Proofreading involves letting the essay marinate for a few hours, maybe days, before posting, then carefully revising — from a reader’s perspective. I didn’t do that.

But this time I will. This post can wait a day or two to be consumed by the public. From now on, that ‘Save Draft’ button is going to get a lot more use.

If you’re not looking to hire a semi-professional proofreader/editor for your next written work, maybe you should think about it. If you think about it, think about me. I’m available and I’m sure we can agree on a rate.