Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 9: Just Your Ordinary Chaos

So there I was, my day all planned out and motivation in check. I even knew what I was going to be working on. Surely I could finish a draft of The Forgetful Alien after a few hours of hard work, right?

Once I’d read over what I’d written and fixed some errors along the way, I went off track, pushing the story forward only a few hundred words. And after that? Nothing. Ugh!

It wasn’t exactly writer’s block that I was experiencing, and by and large, I knew what I wanted to say. So why was I struggling?

Oddly enough, my mind just needed a break. It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to write. Far from it! I just couldn’t get my mind into the task at hand.

But shouldn’t I keep moving forward, regardless? Isn’t that the right thing to do? Is a forceful approach necessary to get the project off my plate?

In the end, I realized that I wasn’t being productive, and decided to work on something else. I looked over my other half-finished projects and worked a little on each until I decided to transcribe the first page of Emberlake Hollow that I’d written by hand while watching the 49ers game (yes, I write by hand on occasion).

I didn’t transcribe much—less than 200 words—when I felt this sudden urge to write something new; not something half-finished or that had been brewing in my head, but something genuine. I didn’t care what I wrote about. I just needed something fresh and unexplored to keep my fingers moving.

“Here we going again,” I thought to myself. “What’s that ahead? Could that be another half-finished project?”

Remember what I said about starting new projects in lieu of finishing old ones? Now I couldn’t even follow my own advice. I was playing with fire, but what the heck? I hadn’t finished anything to speak off despite working all day. What harm could there be in deviating from my plan?

So I put on my Donald Rump hat (the pen name that I use whenever I want to write adult toilet humor) and went to work. Before I knew it, the first 500 words flew out of me. I had no idea where it was going; it just felt good. As I kept typing, the farts kept coming, and I knew that I was onto something.

After an hour, I had amassed 1,000 words. Then another went by and I had 1,750. Suddenly it was time to tie things up. Because of how this mysterious process works, the solution had been hinted at throughout the story and was now staring me in the face. I put down the last 300 words in a mad dash and finally my latest piece of fart fiction was born.

But what would I call it? Unlike other stories where the title became clear midway through, I still couldn’t decide on a name. While I pondered over the title, I sifted through stock art that I’d set aside for future Donald Rump books and picked out a pair of ridiculous images. Perfect!

Once I began the cover, my hand was forced. “What’s the title? That’s the $500 question!” I said aloud. Surprisingly it stuck. Sure, the title was just as corny as the cover, but this wasn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning material. It was just a series of fart jokes. Besides, it was the only title I could think of that unified all of the ridiculous elements of the story.

After finishing the cover, I added it to the Word document (I use Microsoft Word for everything) and began the slow, painful process of editing.

But this was a different type of “slow and painful.” I was only moving slow because I was tired. Really, really tired. By grinding forward, I knew I’d have something to publish later that evening.

Also, I’d written The $500 Question in a different manner than my other works, blog posts included. I moved from sentence-to-sentence, making sure each was of publishable quality before proceeding on. When I reached the end, I felt that I had something that could be submitted. Sure, there were still holes that needed to be filled and sentences that needed retooling, but for the most part, it looked good.

So for the next couple of hours, I tinkered with The $500 Question, strengthening nouns and verbs, trimming adjectives and adverbs and replacing or omitting sections that weren’t worth saving. Certainly I could have wrapped things up earlier, but I enjoyed the slow, methodical pace.

Eventually the entire book got done and put up on Smashwords. In the past, I used to create the Kindle version first and didn’t worry about the Smashwords version until much, much later. Since Smashwords wasn’t a major source of income, I never was in a rush to publish there.

But that was before I started my new job and was exposed to a different (better) way of doing things. Ironically, the Kindle version is now the last thing I work on.

My publishing process is this: Once I finish the manuscript, I go to Bowker’s website, assign an ISBN to it (unless I want to use a free one from Smashwords), add it to my book, and create the PDF. After a quick check of the PDF, I create a .DOC version for Smashwords, upload it, and jump over to Teachers Pay Teachers (if it’s a children’s book) or my author store (note: Donald Rump has his own store). Since Smashwords has to convert the Word document (and sometimes it’s buried in the queue), this gives me the opportunity to put up my work in a few more venues before creating the EPUB.

Once Smashwords is taken care of, I create the EPUB from one of the templates that I’ve used in the past. This part can be monotonous work at times, especially if I have lots of images. If I do, I create a quick HTML version and open it with Sigil, giving me all of the metadata I need for the OPF, and to a lesser extent, the NCX file.

After filling in the template with my content, I zip it up with a command line tool (I’m on a Mac) and validate it with IDPF’s free service. Once I’ve debugged all of the errors (I always seem to forget something), I open the EPUB with Adobe Digital Editions or Sony’s e-reader app (I forget the name). If everything’s good, I submit it directly to Kobo and then Barnes & Noble.

As you can see, there are a lot of steps before I even arrive at the Kindle version, and that’s where I stopped last night. After I get home from work today, I’ll create the MOBI version (I use MOBI Pocket Creator on my PC) and upload it to Amazon.

Once I have all three versions, I’ll add them to my author store and OmniLit/All Romance eBooks (if appropriate). And if I still want to keep going, I can submit my content to Lulu (I’ve had a few sales there over the years), Tradebit (still waiting for my first sale) or directly to Apple (they’re a pain and sometimes it’s worth giving Smashwords 10% so that I don’t have to deal with them).

The only venue that I will not use is Scribd. I don’t know what it is with these people, but I do not trust them. They’ve proven time and again that they are poor caretakers of my work and enough is enough.

It’s easy to forget the importance of trust in a relationship. A venue needs to earn your trust before being given your entire backlist. In my case, I’d just be asking for it if I continued dealing with them.

Several months ago, many of my settings were reset when Scribd performed a major update. This left several of my books visible in their entirety even though they were listed for sale. To make matters worse, many now had creative commons licenses associated with them, allowing readers to make alternate versions of my copyrighted work. What the heck?

Needless to say, I jumped all over it and fixed everything as quickly as I could. I have no idea how many copies were viewed/downloaded or how long it had been like this, but it really turned my stomach.

Even though I was angry with them, I decided to give them another chance. I hadn’t sold anything there yet, but it appeared that a fair amount of people had been exposed to my content and may have made purchases in other venues. Perhaps. But since Scribd is more of a document-sharing community, most users expect the content to be free. Most likely, my backlist was being advertised to the wrong audience.

Once I fixed everything, I played around with some of the settings and came across a subscription-based model that wasn’t being heavily advertised yet. Out of curiosity, I opted in a few of my books and waited for the results.

Then in December 2013, Smashwords announced a partnership with Scribd and automatically opted in its entire catalog. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted my backlist in their subscription-based plan, so I dragged my feet for a couple of weeks.

It was then I received a nasty, little e-mail from Scribd’s IT department telling me that my book Aveline had been pulled due to plagiarism. What?! There was no advance warning or inquiry to see if I was indeed the copyright owner. The title had been yanked and I was the villain!

Needless to say, this made me very angry, and I suspected it had to do with the content being migrated from Smashwords. But why would they pull an already-established title? Aveline had been on their site for over a year. Didn’t it make more sense to block the content that was coming over from Smashwords? It didn’t make any sense.

Disgusted with how I had been treated, I promptly deleted all of my uploaded documents on Scribd, opted out every single one of them on Smashwords, and wrote a scathing e-mail. The reply back was apologetic, assured me that it wouldn’t happen again, and—get this—they promptly restored my document.

But how could that be? I already deleted my account by the time the e-mail had arrived. When I checked Scribd’s site, sure enough Aveline was available for sale. But by whom? There was no longer an account associated with this product.


It was obvious that Scribd hadn’t put together a basic migration plan for all of the content that was coming over from Smashwords, and they had absolutely no answer for content that existed in both places. No doubt they ticked off a lot more authors!

Even worse, I discovered that they had opted in all of my content into their subscription plan by default. Remember the old setting that enabled you to opt in each title individually? That was superseded by a new global setting.

If there’s a theme to Scribd’s operations it’s this: Even if you’ve done due diligence, anything can and will happen to your content when they upgrade their system. You need to keep a close eye on their website; otherwise, you may find yourself in an undesirable position.

Since I’ve experienced this first hand, it would my own fault if I allowed it to happen again. Sure, I could opt in my titles individually on Smashwords, but I don’t want to worry about them once they’re in Scribd’s system.

Peace of mind and security mean something to me, and if I lose a few bucks because my work isn’t in all of the venues, so be it. It’s not as if Scribd is a major player in the e-book industry, anyways (famous last words).

In spite of this, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with a little known site named Teachers Pay Teachers. Everything has been professional and I never have these types of issues there. If there’s a problem, it’s of my own doing.

I already make enough mistakes as it is, and I don’t need someone (or something) to create work for me. When you’re managing 118 titles, you’ll understand. Even small errors can take hours to correct.

And I’d rather spend that time writing. Wouldn’t you?

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Total: 11,827 words

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