Monthly Archives: July 2012

Olympic fever


Big Ben&London eye

Big Ben&London eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






I feel it would be remiss of me to let the London Olympics go by without a mention on my blog. After all, I live in a sport-obsessed household (of which I am no minor contributor) and there’s something so tribal about dressing up in national regalia, plonking yourself in front of the television and cheering on your country on the sporting field. Or in the sporting pool. Or whatever.


The Olympics mean, in the context of this blog, that very little writing is going to get done over the next fortnight. It is, after all, the greatest show on Earth, and it only comes by every four years so it seems a little wasted to not try to make the most of it. Sure, my team has been a little disappointing so far with some of their results, but that’s also what it’s all about, isn’t it? Seeing someone unexpected come from nowhere and take the prize. I only hope that these unexpected victories are due to hard work rather than anything synthetic, if you know what I mean.

I figure that it’s not worth beating myself up about missing a self-imposed deadline (see this post) if it means missing the Olympics to do so. Sure, I’ve disappointed myself in that regard, but it also occurred to me over the past couple of weeks that it was less than six months ago that I scrapped about 70,000 words that I’d already written, when I decided to restructure the story. So I haven’t been all that idle, really, since then. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself, hahaha.

But yes, the next fortnight will consist of sitting in front of the telly, national flag in hand, watching the highlights. (I’d watch the Olympics live, but my time zone means that about 80% of competition happens when I’m in bed. Sure, I’ll try to get as much live action as I can, but I’m being realistic here.) I’ll be experiencing the highs and the lows, the ecstasy and the disappointments, the pride of hearing the national anthem being played and seeing our athletes tearing up as they sing along. I’ll be watching sports that I only generally see every four years (European handball, anyone?), cheering people I’ve never heard of and watching as the superstars either justify the hype or crumble beneath its weight. And I’ll be loving every minute.

Writing? What’s that? For the next fortnight, at least, I’m afraid that I’ll be doing very little. And I don’t mind a bit.

Oh, and go Australia!!!  :)


Disclaimer: I have no association with the International Olympic Committee, any national Olympic Committee, or any of the sponsor partners of the 2012 London Games or any other Olympic Games. All views portrayed are strictly my own.






Filed under Olympic Games

Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part III), by Peter McLennan

Hello all! Today I’m thrilled to be bringing you the third and final installment of Peter McLennan’s guide to self-publishing. If you missed the first two, you can find part one here and part two here, and I thoroughly recommend checking them out. If you’ve ever considered self-publishing but didn’t really know how to go about it, then this series is a must-read. So, without further ado, here’s Peter.


eBook printing experiments

eBook printing experiments (Photo credit: proboscis)

Part III: After Uploading

In previous articles I’ve talked about laying the foundations  and formatting your manuscript  for on-line self-publishing. In this final article, I’ll outline some tactics to help with checking the results of your efforts.


Checking multiple document formats multiple times is obviously repetitive. To speed things up and help me focus on likely problem areas, I produced a checklist of issues to look for. If I get enough encouragement, I could be convinced to put it up on my web site.

In general, you need to look for errors in font, text size, page alignment, paragraph spacing and alignment, indentation, line breaks, pagination, character formatting and special characters (eg, ellipses, m-dashes, non-breaking spaces and ‘smart’ quotation marks).


CreateSpace produces hard copies, but you can check the contents well enough using on-line tools and/or the .pdf download.

Unfortunately, the only way to be sure that your cover is okay is to actually buy a proof copy of the book. If you order a proof copy, you aren’t permitted to continue with publishing until the book has been printed and dispatched to you, so if you’re in a hurry you might want to risk-manage this.

Kindle Direct

Checking your KDP conversion is easy, since Amazon provides a free program for this. You should see what your eBook looks like in different versions of the Kindle (which the program lets you do), since not all Kindles are created equal.


Smashwords eBook conversions are the hardest to check because of the plethora of possible formats and the limitations of the Smashwords converter. I found it best to look at each format in at least two eBook readers since the readers themselves can be idiosyncratic: if you only use one reader, you can’t know whether an anomaly is inherent in your eBook or just the reader being quirky. Here are the readers I used and the formats they handle:

Some file types and viewers do not allow the use of multiple fonts, and some are unable to render bold and italics. If you’ve used such formatting to emphasise or clarify things in your text, you need to ensure that your meaning remains clear in the absence of such cues. Alternatively, you can opt not to publish your work in those file types that don’t meet your needs.

Unfortunately, some eBook formats, or conversions thereto, are so crude as to be unacceptable. For example, .pdb turns all your smart quotes, ellipses and m-dashes into gibberish. I didn’t need any more gibberish in my book: I’d already written enough of it. Rather than further dumbing down my formatting (which would have detracted from the more popular eBook formats), I chose not to publish a .pdb version. Some writers publish separate versions for the less capable formats, whereas others just sell defective documents (check out a few .pdb files on Smashwords and you’ll soon see what I mean).


.pdb silliness: note the inconsistent font sizes in the table of contents and the incorrect special characters

In addition to eBook files, Smashwords also produces two formats for on-line reading. These often have formatting errors that are not present in any other format. Here are two examples:  the preliminary material on page one should be centred, and the first paragraph of the story should have the same font as the subsequent paragraphs. Such errors are distressing since this is the format that a prospective customer is most likely to view prior to purchasing, and they make the author look amateurish. Further simplifying the styles in the document would probably fix these problems—but at the expense of the ‘real’ eBook formats. I chose to maximise the quality of the latter.

.html silliness: note the inconsistent font face and size


Smashwords will automatically insert your cover image into some of the formats, but not all of them (most notably, .pdf). If you want your cover image to appear in all formats, you need to insert it into your Word document. Supposedly the Smashwords converter is smart enough to detect this and avoid duplicate covers, but I could never get this to happen. Ergo, I had to choose between having two covers in some versions or no cover in some versions. I opted for the former.

Smashwords strongly encourages the creation of a table of contents since some distributors insist on it. These can be especially problematic. Several eBook formats couldn’t handle the character formatting I needed for one chapter heading, forcing me to rename the chapter.


When you’ve looked at every combination of format and reader and made appropriate changes to your manuscript, you need to upload the new version and repeat until you’re happy with the results. For Smashwords, I needed four such cycles.


With over one million eBooks for Kindle, and 38 million hard copy books on Amazon, the odds of your book being discovered by a simple search are negligible. Judicious use of metadata to describe your work will help, but marketing is essential. Each self-publishing site provides some recommendations and facilities to help with this, and some other eminently sensible advice is here.

Shameless Advertisement

And speaking of marketing…

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.


Peter McLennan

Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks, Peter! I certainly feel like I know a LOT more about self-publishing than I did a couple of months back, before I’d read these. If this has helped you out at all, I’d really appreciate if you left a comment thanking Peter for sharing his experiences, because let’s face it, the more we know about this sort of thing before going into it, the better prepared we are.




Filed under author guest post

The Liebster Blog Award!

Well, well, well, this is about as tardy as it’s possible to get.

AGES ago, back in MAY (yes, that’s right, two whole months), the very lovely Holly Kench nominated me for a Liebster Blog award. And do you know what? While I thanked her for the nomination, I totally forgot to do my bit and pass on the award to those bloggers I thought worthy. Until now, that is.

To quote Holly’s explanation, the  Liebster Blog Awards are basically chain letters of love for baby-bloggers. It’s all about sharing links and love to your favourite sites (at least those with under 200 followers). And, while I would love to have more than 200 followers, if having less than that number means I can share some blog love, then I’m all for it.:)

It seems the requirements for accepting the award are linking back to the person who nominated you (done!), and then nominate five other blogs that you think deserve some attention. I have to admit that a large proportion of blogs out there don’t give follower stats, so I had to do a bit of guesswork. (I know that WordPress stats aren’t necessarily correct anyway. Last week, it showed that overnight I had gone from 90-odd followers to over 850. My own stats show that the 90-odd is still correct, so forgive me if I sometimes take readership stats with a grain of salt.)  Anyway, my apologies if you’re listed here and do have more than 200 followers; I hope you’re not offended by my presumption. So, in no particular order, here goes.

1. Pauline Conolly‘s blog 

2. Alison Wong’s blog, Think Write, not Wong

3. Sarah L Fox’s blog, The Write Fox

4. Mike Lambson’s blog, The Writer’s Zone

5. Elizabeth Lawrence‘s blog (warning: link contains adult content)

I hope (a) I got the follower numbers right, and (b) you go and check out what these lovely people have to say. Also I thoroughly recommend you subscribe to Holly’s blog, linked to right at the top.

Thanks again to Holly for the nomination … and share the blog love!


Filed under blog, blog awards

Book review: Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May


Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May


This is a review of the book Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen MayThe novel follows the experiences of nineteen year old Billy Smith, who is faced with looking after his six year old brother Oscar after the sudden death of their mother. The book takes its name from those magazines which ask readers to contribute their stories to fill pages, which are not actually called Life! Death! Prizes! but they might as well be. Billy refers to these magazines as “trauma porn”, which I suppose they are, but he devours them nonetheless. Or perhaps he devours them because of that. I leave that open.:)

The book is a very realistic portrayal of a teenager caught in this situation, trying to convince his aunt, Oscar’s school, social services and the world in general that he is well and truly capable of looking after his brother. The reader is less convinced, with the evidence of inappropriate television habits, random bedtimes and Billy’s strategy of, when his mother’s cashcard finally runs out, of just not paying the bills because the electricity and gas companies wouldn’t dare disconnect them, going against his confidence. He does, however, mean well, and believe he is doing the right thing, and for that we can love him.

Without wanting to give too much away, the fact that the book is in first person from Billy’s POV is used very well in misdirection. His history of Aidan Jebb, the boy who killed their mother, is convincing, and there are times when we are not sure whether we are seeing reality of some drug-induced hallucination. Billy isn’t sure, either, so I appreciate that’s the point. There are a couple of places, though, where I’m still unsure whether the misdirection is deliberate or not. For example, the bit where Billy’s attempted girlfriend Lucy is reading AA Milne to Oscar, Billy considers that a poem like that telling the story of James James Morrison Morrison wouldn’t be tolerated today, as it’s about child abduction. The thing is, of course, that it’s not about that at all (it is James James Morrison Morrison’s mother who disappears, not the boy himself), which leaves me unsure about whether it’s Billy or the author who is making this mistake.

My other criticism is about the twist at the end, which I don’t want to go into in too much detail. However, I think I can say that I didn’t really feel convinced about Billy’s intentions. While that sort of thing is touched on during the story as a whole, I didn’t get enough sense of him heading in that direction. It felt a little contrived, like he was going through the motions rather than actually being in the state of mind to carry it out. Perhaps he was; perhaps that was the point and I missed it, but I got the impression that he was serious. I just didn’t feel it.

Aside from that, it was a very touching book. The relationship between Billy and Oscar was heartwarming, and the lengths that he went to to try to keep things the way they were, much as they could be, was rather endearing. Sure, he didn’t always make the right decisions, but he was trying, and that counts for something. Well written, funny and in some cases painfully honest, it is well worth a read for anyone looking for a contemporary story about family, hope and dreams.


Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
245 pages (paperback)
Available from as ebook or paperback


1 Comment

Filed under book review

On deadlines


Deadline (Photo credit: Digital Game Museum)

I have a deadline coming up. Not from a publisher or an agent or anything exciting – indeed, one that was self-imposed – but a deadline nonetheless. And I am in danger of not meeting it.

It’s my fault, of course. I set a date to have my first draft finished by (August 6th), without setting mini-deadlines along the way to make sure I was on track to meet my major one. And, like everyone, I have procrastinated. I joined Camp NaNoWriMo in June to try to up my word count, only to fail miserably by writing approximately ten percent of what I was supposed to. I made excuses. I wasn’t inspired. I just didn’t write.

Now I’m about 30K shy of my goal (to allow for major cuts and still have a decent word count for the finished piece) with three weeks left in which to do it. NaNo all over again, in a way. I think I have enough story in my head to do it, but the danger of procrastination always lingers. Sure, school is going back this week which means I will have much more time during the day, but I’m sure I can fill that time with useless other things like, say, cleaning or gardening. In other words, everything else that has suffered as I’ve been idle.

Things are looking up, though. Yesterday at about 3am I had a great idea for a new character who will hold things together much better than they would have done without him. He even has a history and a religion and everything, which is unusual for me because I often leave religion out of my writing. The downside of being an atheist, I suppose. I also have some great scene ideas which again make the story much more fluid and believable. Really, I think I can do this if I put my mind to it. The trouble is putting my mind to it.

Where has my inspiration gone that enabled me to win two consecutive NaNos? Where is my lust for writing? Where is the desire to see the words “The End” in my manuscript? I’m afraid that I’m losing my passion for this story, which would explain the lacklustre progress over recent months. Yet, I still think it’s worth finishing. It’s a weird kind of internal conundrum.

Naturally, some child-free hours can theoretically work wonders for my word count. With the kids either asleep or at school I can, potentially, kill off a couple of thousand words a day, which will reduce my 30K shortfall very quickly. I CAN meet this deadline, I just need to motivate myself.

Wish me luck!


Filed under writing

Interview: David Vernon, from Stringybark Stories

Today I am very pleased to introduce David Vernon, judge and editor at Stringybark Stories. Stringybark hosts a number of short story competitions each year in an attempt to find the new voices of Australian writing. If you’ve ever been curious about how writing competitions are judged and what people are looking for, then this is for you.

Tell me about Stringybark Stories. What makes you different from other writing competitions?

I established Stringybark Stories in 2010 after I became disillusioned at what was available for Australian writers.  There seemed to be (and in fact still are) two tiers of competitions — the big ones with big prizes and a myriad of little ones with tiny prizes.  Both have problems.  The big ones are bureaucratic, monolithic and unfriendly.  Once you have submitted your story that’s it.  Unless you win something you never hear again from them — they rarely even acknowledge your submission.   The small  ones are bureaucratic in another way — they often require paper-based submission, cheques and once again you never hear anything until the results are announced — and when they are announced it is in the local newspaper and not even on a website.

The other issue is that even if you win a writing competition your story goes into limbo.  You may receive cash, a glow of satisfaction and then that is it.  With Stringybark we publish (in paperback and as an e-book) the winning entries and the highly commended stories.  Hence we support the author by saying categorically, “Your writing is good enough to be published.”

In short, I created Stringybark Stories to encourage short story writing by:

  • being friendly and easy to interact with;
  • being contemporary (we have a large website that is easy to navigate and all entries are accepted electronically);
  • being transparent — all our judging criteria are clear, easy to understand and available and perhaps most importantly we offer the option of receiving feedback on every story entered.  Each entrant can see exactly what each judge thought of their story.  Continuing the transparency theme — we publish the names of all our judges and small biographies about them, so once again writers can see who is judging their work;
  • having more than one judge (quite a few small competitions have only one judge — we have three and often four);
  • helping writers to improve — we produce a free newsletter that comes out once or twice a month;
  • rewarding those who write good stories by ensuring that their story is published, both electronically and in paper form; and
  • celebrating writing success by giving the winning authors a profile page on our website.

Since our first competition in 2010 we have run eight competitions, judged 1127 entries, given $4,190 in prizes, published 273 short stories in 10 e-books and 9 paperbacks.

Our competition themes are set by writers and readers themselves by us seeking regular feedback from writers and that way we know we are meeting the needs of writers and readers.

What do you look for when you’re judging a short story?

We make it very clear on our website what we are looking for — all part of our transparency — but in short we want stories that match the genre of the competition, have a strong and internally consistent plot, good characterisation and deal with interesting subject matter.  In addition, competent punctuation and grammar don’t go astray either!  Everything people want in a novel, we want in a short story.   We do publish submission guidelines which should make it easier for both the submitter and the judge but it is constantly amazing how few people read them and that even fewer writers follow them.

How subjective do you find the process? Is there a way of keeping things as objective as possible or does it just come down to taste?

We do our very best to make a subjective assessment objective.  We mark each story out of fifty — ten marks for interest, ten for plot, ten for style, five for setting, five for characterisation, five for spelling/grammar and five for the judge to allocate on the basis of whether he or she thinks the story should be published.  Thus with four judges each story is marked out of 200.  We find that  by having multiple judges individual judging quirks tend to get ironed out.  We also produce a comprehensive guide for the judges to provide them with clear advice on how to rate elements of a story.  Having said that, it is clear that individual judging taste is very important.  If a judge doesn’t like a particular plot/theme/style then we find that the story tends to be marked down on all criteria.  But then this is no different to reader’s reactions to stories.  If you like something very much then most sins are forgiven.  “What?  Poor punctuation?  No, just a typo.”  Conversely, if you don’t like something then there is little the author can do right.  Human nature, I’m afraid.

Why did you decided to focus on short stories and writing competitions?

Short stories are a wonderful form of literature for writers to practise their art.   In a short story, every word counts and so a word needs to mean just what you want it to mean — nothing more and nothing less.  Similarly, everything else needs to work — characterisation needs to be powerful, the plot clever and the style appropriate.  In longer forms of writing, it is less necessary to be precise and writing can become sloppy.  Dare I say it, but the latter Harry Potter books would be vastly better with being a little shorter.  However, by then JK Rowling was so successful that nobody would dare to suggest pruning of her words!

We focus on writing competitions because it is clear from the interviews we do with authors that writing competitions are an important way for them to receive feedback on their writing.  It is a relatively objective and independent way of finding if what you write is worthwhile.  Friends, relatives, lovers and children never quite manage to provide unbiased advice about the worth of a piece of writing.  They are simply too close to the author to be without any conflict of interest!  Therefore if our overall objective is to encourage Australian writers then supporting them through running a writing competition seems to make sense.

What advice would you have for any aspiring and novice authors out there?

Our author profile section on our website is full of writing wisdom.  However, there is one piece of advice that has always been with me.  The only way to learn to write, is to write.  Just do it!  And then do it again and again and again…


Thanks David! Sage advice, and some really interesting comments about writing and the competition process. I’m not sure that it will help me win when I eventually get around to entering, but it’s certainly worth knowing. I’d also like to thank David for launching Stringybark, and commend him for the policy of transparency in the competitions.:)

If you would like to know more about David then please either visit his website or the Stringybark Short Story Awards. If you’re an Australian writer, I strongly advise you check out the different competitions. Currently they are looking for flash fiction stories, due in about seven weeks time, so if you want to try your hand at that then by all means do so. I’m even considering putting a story together myself!:)


Filed under author interview, writing

Has it really come to this?

Woman-power symbol (clenched fist in Venus sig...

Warning: political opinions ahead.

I want to talk today about sexism. I don’t usually get into this very much; not that I don’t think it’s important, but more because once you establish yourself as a feminist, there seems to be a bit of an expectation that you’re going to be active and vocal about it. I am perfectly happy to be active and vocal occasionally, but to be honest, constant outrage is just so exhausting. But some of the things I’ve been reading lately have really got my goat.

For example, did you know that I’m considered a “mummy blogger”? This isn’t because my blog is focused on my family, because, if you’ve read any of it, you’ll know that’s not the case. No, it’s because I’m a woman and I blog. Apparently the fact that I have children isn’t even relevant, I would still be called a mummy blogger, if you believe this article. And this bothers me, not only because I’m being stereotyped based solely on my gender, despite any other evidence that doesn’t support the hypothesis.

The thing about “mummy bloggers” is that, by their very nature, they are not taken seriously. Our society doesn’t value the domestic, attaching social value only to things outside the home. Everything that happens inside, it seems, is only useful because it facilitates the external, the professional, aspect of our lives. And the implication with “mummy bloggers” is that they only exist within the domestic sphere, and therefore anything they have to say about anything isn’t worth listening to. What would they know? They’re just mummies.

Naturally, “daddy bloggers” is a phrase that has yet to find a home, probably because men are not defined by their familial status. Listen to missing person descriptions and you’ll hear women described as mothers or grandmothers; men are listed as lawyers or landscape gardeners. But that’s not even what I’m annoyed about, despite the fact that this sexism is still rife within western culture.  (I’m not even going to mention other cultures, no matter how much parts of them horrify me. That’s another fight for another day.) No, what I’m annoyed about is the fact that there seems to be this tacit acceptance of it all; that this is all there is, and as far as we’re going to get. And we should be happy with that.

Of course, here in Australia it’s not nearly as bad as the US. When did birth control get controversial again? I thought we had fought those battles forty years ago, and can’t see why they have to be fought again. Why is “feminism” suddenly a dirty word again? Right-wing media types revel in calling any woman who stands up for her rights a “feminazi“, and get applauded for it. Again, in the US, a Republican governor quietly repeals equal pay legislation with the argument that “it’s happening anyway, so why bother keeping the law on the books?” Why indeed? To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, everyone drives on the right anyway, so why bother keeping the law that requires that on the books? The whole thing is ridiculous.

Closer to home, one of my previous guest bloggers, Holly Kench, wrote a post on her own site about her internal battles about whether she should call herself a feminist. Holly recognised that not everyone saw feminism in the same light as she did, and was wary about alienating people, but it’s an important part of her identity so she kept the word. For the record, this is how she defines feminism (quoted from the post linked to above):

Seeing that there are imbalances in community, societal and cultural values, and wanting to do something about them.
Refusing the suggestion that any one person has a right to control any other person’s body, identity, or mind, or what that person chooses to do with their body, identity, or mind.
Believing that everyone’s choices and views are their own.
Accepting that everyone is different, and celebrating that fact.

That’s something to be proud of, right? At least, I would think so. But then again, the second point would probably have some people up in arms and calling her a “feminazi”, because her world view doesn’t match their own. Sigh. Feminism has even become such a reviled term in some quarters that perfectly sane, logically-minded women avoid organisations that promote women’s rights.

There are a number of high-profile people who label themselves feminists, and who actively lead the fight, who I admire deeply. Tara Moss, the former model and now best selling fiction author, is someone who never misses an opportunity to educate people and get the message out there. I admire that, I really do. But doing it all the time really wears you out.

I don’t want to be up in arms about the labelling of women’s writing, women’s fiction and what women read. I don’t want to rebel against the term “chick lit” despite how un-professional it sounds as a genre and how derided it is by other (particularly male) authors. I don’t want to be fighting for validation as an author simply because what I write is designed to appeal to 51% of the population. I also don’t want to live in a society where any labels used primarily for women seem to be derogatory and undervalued. But the fact remains, despite what I want, I think I will have to. The world simply hasn’t caught up yet.


Filed under writing

Guest post: Online Self Publishing (part II), by Peter McLennan

Today we have Part II in YA author Peter McLennan’s three-part series on the hows and wherefores of self publishing. If you missed Part I three weeks ago, I thoroughly recommend you check it out if you have ever considered self publishing, or even if you are just curious to know exactly what’s involved. I know it was an eye-opener for me, albeit a welcome one should I ever decide to go down that path. Anyway, if you have read the first instalment you’ll be wanting me to skedaddle so you can read Part II, so without further ado … here’s Peter!


English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, ta...

English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, tablets and ebook readers arranged. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second part of my trilogy on on-line self-publishing. Now that you’ve laid the foundations , you’re ready to reformat your work so it can be digested by the sites that will convert it into things people can buy. (Of course, you should keep a pristine copy of your manuscript safely tucked away, and only work on copies for each submission.)

Documentation on how to reformat your work is available on each of the self-publishing web sites. I’m only going to mention tricks and traps that aren’t otherwise clear or are easily lost amid the eReams of information available.


CreateSpace is the print-on-demand supplier to Amazon. Since the ultimate product is a hard copy, you need to reformat your document so that it looks like a book. This involves adjusting the page size, margins, pagination, etc. CreateSpace provides templates that you can use or refer to, but be careful: these can be defective, with inconsistent font sizes, etc.

While CreateSpace accepts uploads in .doc format, I found that this didn’t always get the page alignment right. The solution was to convert the .doc to .pdf using Word 2010, and then upload the .pdf.

The hardest part about using CreateSpace is cover design (unless you use one of their prefabricated layouts). Since the cover must be printed, it needs to be done in high resolution: at least 300 dpi. Worse, because it may not be printed and trimmed precisely, it has to be larger than your book, there are areas you can’t use, the spine width depends on the page count, there has to be a barcode on the back, and so on. Fortunately, CreateSpace also provides templates for covers.

I used PaintShop Pro (~A$45 here) to do the artwork, then PrimoPDF (free) to convert it to .pdf for upload.


You’ve slaved over the formatting of your masterpiece until it’s perfect. Bad news: eBook readers (the gadgets, not the people) aren’t as smart as word processors. Worse news: they’re wilful. They’ll reformat your work as they see fit, they won’t get it quite right, and they’ll all do it differently. Regardless of the sophisticated formatting in your word processor file, eBook readers will happily place section breaks at the top of a page, start a line with an m-dash, make your block quotes look the same as the rest of the text, etc. While your aim is obviously to minimise such problems, you won’t be able to eradicate them entirely. If you’re a perfectionist (and you probably should be), this is rather galling.

The good news is that eBooks require smaller covers, so you can easily downsize your CreateSpace cover for them.

Kindle Direct

The main problem I experienced with the Kindle Direct conversion was that I wanted to use a sans-serif font for block quotes to distinguish them from regular text. However, Kindle refused to grant my wish so I had to resort to other tactics such as indentation, italics and font size variations. You can see an example on page 1 of the free preview here (compare the paperback and Kindle versions).

A block quote as printed: note sans-serif font


A block quote in Kindle


Smashwords is ambitious: it tries to create nine different formats of eBook from your source file. It’s also relatively crude, and may require you to dumb down your formatting and do things its way. In particular, you’ll need to master the use of ‘styles’ in Word. Unfortunately, I’d already mastered them too well and was using a sophisticated hierarchy; eg, my ‘para-first’ style was based on my ‘para’ style, which was based on my ‘normal’ style.

My first Smashwords conversions were poor. Distressingly, as soon as you upload something for conversion, Smashwords assumes the results are perfect: they go public straight away and are queued for distribution to other sellers (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc). You don’t get to check them first. As a result, potentially defective copies of your work are offered for sale, only to be replaced with the next trial potentially within minutes. (Smashwords does provide an option to ‘unpublish’ your work which minimises the duration for which dodgy versions are out there, but there are dire warnings against doing so.) Because of this, I recommend that you be as prepared as possible when commencing the Smashwords publishing process, avoid excessive experimentation, and be ready to fix errors and upload corrected versions in quick succession once you’ve started.

To avoid spamming the world with defective eBooks (and there’s enough of them already), I quickly succumbed to doing things the way Smashwords recommends rather than trying to gently massage my masterpiece. This drastic process involves stripping all the formatting from your document and then putting it back in again—but in the Smashwords-approved manner.

Actually, I still cheated a bit. If you’ve already used multiple paragraph styles (and you should have), you can keep track of them by prepending the style name to the paragraph mark (¶ ) for the relevant paragraph; eg, ‘Chapter 1’ becomes ‘Chapter 1#CHAPHDG#¶ ’. This makes it much easier to apply Smashwords-friendly styles after you’ve purged the formatting, especially if you use ‘Find and Replace’ to automate the process.

In addition to applying styles, you also have to reinstate character formatting and some special characters.

Even after this radical surgery, my lean-and-mean document still confused Smashwords slightly. I suspect that it inherited some non-standard customisations from my template. If this may affect you, I recommend renaming your current (or .dotx) for safe keeping. Next time you run Word, it will create a nice vanilla one which will be more to Smashwords’ taste.

Part III …

…of this series will provide some tips for checking the results of your conversions.

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Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.


Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks Peter! This is all really interesting information. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say in Part III (due for publication on Friday 27 July).

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Genre bender


charlie (Photo credit: christyscherrer)

Know your genre.

This is advice given often to new writers, in the interests of making them define their work and therefore be more likely to be able to identify an audience. As advice goes, it’s solid and logical, to the extent that it makes you roll your eyes and say, “well duh.”

Except, is it really that simple? I can’t be the only one who is having trouble pigeonholing my novel into a particular genre. And it’s not that I’m writing something that crosses genres – it’s not a romantic thriller with a paranormal twist and a homicide, for instance. (Not that I have anything against such novels; I’m just using that as a random example.) No, I’m stuck within the sub-genres of romance. I tend to call it romantic comedy, but as far as I’m aware that genre belongs to film rather than books. It may be clearer when the novel is finished, of course, but at the moment I’m torn between labelling my story as chick lit or contemporary romance. Or maybe one of the many other sub-genres out there that I’m just not familiar with yet. You get the idea?

I’m aware of course that genre mis-labeling is nothing new. I remember when Twilight first came out and it was filed in the bookshops under “Horror“, because that was where vampire books went. Of course, it wasn’t a horror story, and before long there were whole shelves labelled “Teen Paranormal Romance“. I think it’s great that Twilight was able to challenge traditional genre labelling like that, but maybe now things are getting a little too specific. Wouldn’t “Paranormal” or even “Paranormal Romance” do the job? Otherwise we’re alienating all those paranormal romances out there which don’t have teenaged protagonists.

I read an article recently about how specific some of the sub-genres out there are, and I have to agree that in some cases there is probably an argument for broadening things a little. Sure, some of the more specific sub-genres have very targeted readerships – gluten-free vegan food, for example – but maybe that should be reserved for non-fiction. I tend to think that fiction readers are rarely that specific in their tastes.

Then again, I’m just one person with very little practical experience in this industry, so what would I know? I’d love to hear what people think about this: are fiction sub-genres getting too specific, or should we be easily able to slot our work under a particular heading? And on that matter, what is the real difference between chick lit and contemporary romance? Any advice would be most welcome.


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