Well, it’s off to press. My last official book for Stephens Press. It’s titled: Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State. This baby has been in the oven for about a year. It’s good and done. My midwifery career is culminating in the birth of an important and, dare I say, damn good book.

I can’t take credit for that. Not its damn goodness. I helped make the baby pretty, and eased it’s path into the world. That’s what I’ve done this past decade or so—help the dreams of authors become the actual books they hoped to see born. (That’s how I see it anyway.)

My job as a book designer has been to be the creative conduit for the visual embodiment of the authors’ visions. I don’t see in my work my vision so much as theirs—I’ve succeeded if I can get out of the way and bring their vision forward in a way that enhances their voice—and yet addresses the needs of the market. (And, hopefully, looks really good besides.)

Stephens Press had a nice long run and we, Publisher, Carolyn Hayes Uber, the editors, other support team members, authors, and myself included; we produced many, many books of which we can all be justly proud. This one, perhaps fittingly, may just be the most important one.

Have to shout out kudos to editor Geoff Schumacher for his tireless efforts on this project. In addition to the managing editor job (on top of his other job as publisher of the Ames Tribune in Iowa) he wrote an article and the eloquent introduction to the book, and he herded cats (er,  more than 70 writers and  numbers of photographers). No small task! Rick Sherman, in Las Vegas, wrangled sponsors, without which this project wouldn’t have seen the light of day. And of course Mike Ferguson, former CEO of Stephens Media, who believed in us long enough to see this project become a reality. And again, Carolyn Hayes Uber who successfully pitched this book to the Nevada Sesquicentennial Commission and got the ball rolling in the first place. I handled design, production, print management, and all things birth related.

This year, 2014, the state of Nevada celebrates its Sesquicentennial—150 years! We were honored to have been chosen to represent the state with the official book for that milestone. And now my work is nearly done. The final files are uploading to the printer, literally RIGHT now.

In the springtime this large volume will hit bookstores in Nevada and online everywhere else. But here’s sneak peak at the cover, and a spread or two. Nevada 150 Years in the Silver State is 12″x9″ and 296 pages! (Told you, it’s big!)  It’s chock full of great stories about Nevada past present and possibly future, and tons of photos. It will retail for $29.95. Actually it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon now.

Nevada 150 Years in the Silver State

NV150Spread1

 

NV150Spread2

 

 

Read more about it:

This is the story of Nevada, told on its 150th birthday.

More than seventy Nevada writers have contributed their words to capture the state’s rich history, diverse culture, and amazing places. Their words are complemented by hundreds of photographs depicting Nevada’s gritty past, desert vistas, and urban splendor.

Nevada’s rugged landscape is a prominent character in this story, but the people, from regular folks to the world’s most famous figures, give this book its narrative force. The persistent prospectors who discovered the state’s hidden stores of precious metals … the mobsters who built the casino business … the entertainers who lit up the stages … the politicians and business leaders who led the way … the homegrown artists and athletes who have made the state proud. They are all here.

Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State delves into the state’s nineteenth century origins and its twentieth century triumphs. But today’s Nevada, in all its ragged glory, is well represented as well, particularly through a dozen beautifully written personal essays.

This book is an informative and entertaining companion to the array of commemorative activities taking place across the state. But it will endure well beyond 2014 as a testament to Nevada’s kaleidoscopic grandeur.

As a final project for a publishing house, we could do worse. And it’s a nice parting gift. As for me, I have some new tricks up my sleeve. I’m moving on to a new and exciting career, building on the things I’ve learned from this one. Not leaving book design entirely, and I’ll never stop loving books. But things are evolving for me. I’ll write more about that later.

Meanwhile, happy 2014 to you all!

Read More...

Sometimes people do strange things with their Word files. One of the strangest is treating it like it’s a typewriter. Remember the days when you had to hit a return to get the carriage to fly back to the right and ring the bell so your keys could keep typing on the next line? You don’t? Well some people do and apparently it’s a hard habit to break.

I’m working on a current book project in which the author has typed a return after every line, between every line, and some additional ones too. Then there were spaces used to center text, tabs for some graphs, but not all, and other inconsistencies. He did apply a Word style to the text, but he only used one style throughout the doc. So, when he went back in and edited his text that style sometimes lost its indent, though kept the same style applied. I am not sure why Word does this, but it does.

I couldn’t tell where he meant the real ¶ to end a graph  because the ¶ returns were everywhere. In desperation I started whining on Facebook, and thank you to you InDesigners for trying to help! There didn’t seem to be anything I could do in Word to fix this without going line by line and reading to figure out what was a real paragraph ending, and what should have been a space. But maybe GREP could help. GREP means: General Regular Expression Parser. Yeah, I don’t know what that means either. It’s like search and replace on steroids. (Word can’t do GREP or at least I don’t know how.)

I know very little about it—I can do some simple things with it because mainly they have some common search strings built in to InDesign. Designer, Angela Bowman, had a good idea to try inserting tabs where some of the returns had been placed. Then using the tabs to find and replace later. But how to isolate the right places?

So I imported the raw chapter doc into InDesign. First, I searched for every instance of +Italic and applied my Character Style Italics because if I hadn’t done that the locally applied style from Word would have been wiped out. Word to the wise  Word user: Please USE ¶ styles and Character (a)styles consistently and not just select the word and make it bold or italics. This is vital if you expect the file to later become an ebook. (or even a print book)

The rest of this is the result of a full day of experimentation, because as I said, I don’t know GREP.

Then I did a GREP search for an applied format (not a style because that wasn’t consistent). I searched for: +first indent 0.5″. Because every new graph seemed to have that in common. Others seemed to have a return but not followed by an indented line. Lo and behold, it found every indented line. But I couldn’t get the thing to just insert a tab—it wanted to wipe out the text after the tab. No, not good. Instead, after much searching and crying I found something that may help. Here it is if you’re an InDesign user this may be useful. (I named my query “Find Indent Insert Tab”) and saved it in the custom queries.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 6.01.07 PM

The screen shot is a little small, so these are the settings: In the GREP tab!

Find what: ^(.)  Means ^=beginning of paragraph, (.) any character*

Change to: \t$1 Means insert a tab in front of Found text*

AND

Find format: +First line indent of o.5″

Change format: Apply style Body Text  (In this case I just to decided to apply my already created Body Text ¶ Style to everything and then go back a restyle what I needed to.

That’s the FIRST step. The point was to remove all the ¶returns that were unneeded. I don’t really WANT tabs.

In the Text tab of the Find/Change dialogue box I searched for all the ¶returns and replaced them with a space. (So now there’s one big block of text and NO returns.)

Then I searched for all the Tabs I inserted and replaced them with a return. So that left me with all the text styled the same, but at least I have real returns—or what I think are real returns. I still had to go through and add back in some returns that got eliminated that shouldn’t have, and remove the extra spaces, apply all the OTHER text styles, etc. But it went a long way toward changing a completely unusable document into something a little less painful.

I’ll keep trying to find some refinements that may take some more of the line by line work out, but that’s for another day (tomorrow). Like maybe I should have added another return (^p^p to ^p^p^p and then removed just the ^p^p?)  I don’t know that may not work—but still some experimenting left to do.

Only 140,000 words to go!

*Credit to Michael Murphy (trainer on Linda.com) for this code. He was using it to do something else, but if I hadn’t seen that, I’d never have figured this out.

Next week I learn CSS! (ha.)

Read More...

Not everyone will fly halfway around the world to go book shopping. My sister, Carolyn Uber, and I are about to embark on a long postponed trip to England, the land of our heritage. I’ve never been before and I am very excited to see the places where my ancestors lived. Besides the genealogy tour, we’ll be sampling the sites and one of the places we can’t wait to go is to the bookshops and stalls in Portabello Road, London. I hope they are still there! Sis has been there before, some years back, and I’ll be very interested to hear from her whether many of the shops she remembers are still plying their trade and hand selling books to readers—as only a local bookseller can.

Things are changing fast in the book world, and though we like to think that they may change slower in places that in outward appearance honor tradition more than we Americans do, I’m not so sure. Russ Grandinetti from Amazon gave a talk recently saying that the US and the UK are selling up to 50% of all books online. You can see his slideshow from that talk here. Mike Shatzkin reported that one of the biggest UK publishers admitted that it makes 60% of sales (all formats) through Amazon. (Still believe they aren’t on the verge of a monopoly? And that doesn’t scare you even a little?) Read his blog post—link below.

You know you’re getting old when you find yourself yearning for the “good old days” and more and more, I do. I can recall times, pre-Amazon, spending entire afternoons at the Tattered Cover in Denver, browsing the shelves, and then finding a soft, worn chair and reading a bit before making a purchase. In fact we used to drive 40 miles one way to do just that. We still could, the TC is still there, but most often, to my shame, Amazon is handier, and with e-books, I can be reading in my own worn chair in seconds, no driving required. So I too am doing my part in ensuring the demise of local bookstores. I should know better.

I hate myself for it.

But I realize I am missing something, as a reading consumer, the sights, the smell (of all those books!) and being in the presence of other booklovers on both sides of the counter. I am missing that serendipitous find, that surprise and delight of a something new and different that I’d never have thought to look for on Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is that it will suggest things to you based on what you’ve already bought. As if that’s all you read. Goodreads (now owned by Amazon, not coincidentally) does largely the same thing. For readers of genre fiction, particularly those who primarily read one kind of books that may work for them. It came too late for my mom who would have loved it. She devoured romances like candy, one a day at least, and pretty much that’s all she read.

But what if you read a little of everything? Will Amazon show you something you might never have read if you hadn’t just walked by that cover that stopped you in your tracks? Will you overhear a conversation between other readers gushing over this or that book by an author you never heard of in a genre you’ve never read? Will the friendly clerk at checkout tell you about a book she read and can’t stop recommending because it affected her so? Nope, probably not.

Amazon will show you stuff like you’ve read before. It will show you the best sellers, it will show you genre fiction if you know what genre to search for, and authors if you know their name, and subjects if you know what you want and if the author/publisher put in the same keywords you’re using. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve just bought on Amazon a specific widget I needed, I get rather annoyed when Amazon keeps trying to sell me the same or similar widget for the next six months. I already bought it! That’s what’s wrong with the recommendation engine. If I don’t know what I want, or the words to describe it, they can’t help me. Though, they’re getting scarily close. Honestly, I don’t know what’s worse, them knowing or not knowing.

As always Mike Shatzkin (publishing’s guru) has something to say on this issue. This is another of those really good posts of interest to writers and readers alike. I strongly urge you to read if you’re one of those.

Wish me luck in Portabello Road! Maybe I’ll find lot’s of great books I’d never have found on Amazon. Think that’s possible? Well, I aim to find out.

Read More...

I’m a reader. I love books. Even if I do a lot more listening to audiobooks these days, I still consume stories—lots of them. I like to think that I know what makes a good story, and I have some idea what is and isn’t good writing as a delivery system. It should be mentioned that “good writing” isn’t an absolute requirement of a good story—though bad writing even when encountered in an otherwise captivating story will make me want to throw the book against a wall.

This is all preamble to my citing a few very good blog posts about the self-publishing trend—and the apparent demise of traditional publishing. (Which is overblown—though no one will argue that commercial publishing will look different in the next 30 years than it has for the last 30.)

Jane Friedman says in this post that self-publishing is becoming the training wheels version of traditional publishing. It’s where writers test out their craft while they [try to] “make a living as a writer”. She says that it largely produces commodity products, and lots of them. (Seriously, read this post. and the discussion following is very interesting. Tim O’Reilly’s comment, “I don’t give a shit if literary novels go away,” draws considerable ire.)

The majority of fiction books sold are not great books, they are mediocre—this has always been the case. The fact is, great works of literature don’t sell, and publishers do need to make money to stay open. Writers who are now mostly self-publishing aren’t any different—it takes years and many rewrites to produce exceptional writing—but if you need to make a living you need to publish. Lots and lots. As often as possible. There has always been a place for mediocre fiction. It’s what the majority of people read. I’m willing to bet that they can’t really tell the difference between a poorly-wrought (romance, crime, thriller, mystery, chick-humor; insert your genre of choice) from a work that the author slaved over for decades. In fact, if a book is a challenge; if they have to “think” while reading, that’s an automatic point against the book—for the majority of readers. Sad, but I think that is largely the case.

When I go looking for books I look for story first. I have read quite a lot of self-published fiction by now. For the most part it isn’t that great. Most of it is dreadful. Some of it is acceptable, though hardly any stories have stood out as new and different ideas. A smaller number of works I’ve found have been exceptional, both in the stories and in the writing—maybe 1% of what I’ve sampled.

The thing is, when I buy a self-published work I know that I am taking a gamble (albeit a low-priced one) that my time will be wasted and I’ll be at best mildly entertained, and at worst disgusted and unable to finish reading. Still more often than not, I will find that when I read a traditionally published book I am going to: not only be entertained, but I may be filled with awe at the writer’s skill. Usually this admiration comes after the reading, because the kind of writing that impresses me most is unselfconscious—it is seamless, and magical. Literary works that are pretentious and smug are as dreadful as poor grammar in lesser hands. (Pretentiousness in a lousy story is unbearable!)

So what’s the point? I’ve come around to self-publishing. I support it. It’s democratized the world of literature like nothing else. It’s wonderful that today anyone can put their written work, their stories, memoirs, and anything else out there for the world to find and read. But, at the same time, that very access leaves readers flipping a coin and picking something in hopes of a good story and good writing—and not frequently finding it.

Then again, maybe that doesn’t matter very much.

Some other good stuff about self-publishing:

Online publishing feeds bewildered consumers a mass of mediocre content

The dilemma of dumbing it down for e-book sales This is telling quote: Henry Baum, founder of Self Publishing Review says, “It’s not that only the writer has to be talented – the reader has to be talented too.”

Self-publishing has become a cult.

Half of self-published authors earn less than $500  (in total folks). Writers who earn more get help from editors, writers as beta readers, and designers. (Oh and being educated helps too.)

Read More...

NoCapDear authors and wannabe authors,

Please stop typing in all caps. Please don’t style in all caps, and never ever type with the caps lock key engaged.

In fact remove that key from your keyboard. It has no practical purpose. And while you’re at it, stop underlining stuff! These are things that drive editors and book designers nuts. We want to strangle you.

And these errors and others can make your e-book fail to be accepted into the online sellers’ stores. Which means we have to figure out what’s wrong, search it out, and nuke it. Then resubmit. All that tinkering and re-tinkering means you should be paying us more money. Please. Stop it!

Ok. I feel better now.

Read More...