Quick Guide to Smashwords

Recently, I helped publish Denizens of Steam on Smashwords. I thought I’d share what I learned.

First, let me just say that if you haven’t heard of Smashwords, it’s well worth checking out. Smashwords is a site for writers and readers. As an author, Smashwords can help you get your book out to the masses, and with no cost for their services, free ISBN’s, and distribution to Scribd, barnesandnoble.com, and a number of other sites, it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

That said, as a previously unpublished writer, there were a ton of things I didn’t know about publishing or formatting, and it was necessary to learn these things before publishing. Smashwords offers a Style Guide to help writers get started. It’s filled with useful information for writers with thoroughly detailed instructions for formatting for Smashwords. It’s also 117 pages long, and even after following the instructions, I still got errors that caused the conversion process to fail.

A number of key points

117 pages of instructions for formatting instructions proved to be more than I had patience for. A lot of the details in the guide could have been stripped down to the bare essentials. A couple of quick points:

1. Smashwords allows writers to upload books in epub or Word doc format (doc, not docx). They do not allow you to upload mobi, html, or plain text formats, even though they distribute in these formats. Instead, they convert your book for you, taking your Word Doc and converting from that. So, don’t waste your time exporting mobi formatted books, like I did.

2. Smashwords conversion software is a bit temperamental. Make sure you format your word doc correctly, or you’ll get errors. Quick formatting tip: Smashwords suggests avoiding “exotic fonts.” They suggest using Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond. Do not use Garamond, as I did. It caused the conversion to fail.

3. Font colour should be set to “Automatic.” Note that this is not the same as black, even if it looks black. Do this as your very last step. If you set up a table of contents for your book, you’ll be using hyperlinks, which tend to mess with the font colour. Be sure to change the font back to automatic after this step. This is very important, as skipping this step will cause conversion to fail.

4. This one might be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll say it anyway. Don’t manually indent (by pressing the tab key). Instead, set up your alignment using the Ruler.

5. Key points in the style guide: how to set up your table of contents. There are a number of ways to set up a TOC in Word, but make sure you follow the instructions in the Style Guide, or you may run into trouble.

If you want to grab yourself a (free) copy of Denizens of Steam, it’s now available in both mobi and epub formats, and you can get it at Smashwords, Scribd, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Be sure to leave a review!


Denizens of Steam

A collection of Steampunk tales of fantasy and high adventure

In an earlier post, I mentioned my online writing group, Scribblers’ Den, and hinted vaguely that there was more to come. Well, there was indeed, and it’s here now. Wait, what is?

We give you…

Denizens of Steam

As I said, it’s a collection of Steampunk tales of fantasy and high adventure. It’s also the Scribblers’ Den’s first anthology, and it was written, curated, and edited by members of the den. It includes short stories written by Steve Moore, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, C.L. Zeitstück, Katie Alford, William J. Jackson, Bryce Raffle, Alice E. Keyes, Albrecht von Saarbruchen, Karen J. Carlisle, Jenny Jobe, and J.P. Paradise. And it includes a foreword by Scribblers’ Den founder, Jack Tyler.

Get it for FREE on Smashwords.

Steampunk’s Not Dead

Dropping the term steampunk still earns you hipster cred

I’ve been hearing a lot of nonsense lately about steampunk being overdone lately. Really? Are we talking about the same steampunk? Sure, ebay and etsy have been so saturated with products inaccurately described as steampunk by merchants trying to capitalize on the so-called trend. When I first came across the term some years ago, an ebay search for “steampunk” yielded a page with perhaps ten hits. Now it results in hundreds of pages worth of hits. You can find everything from steampunk craft supplies to modded keyboards, books, and clothing. And if you’re on deviant art, you can probably use steampunk as an adjective applied to just about any popular tv show or video game and expect to see a ton of steampunked fan art. This might lead you to the conclusion that steampunk has reached its peak.

But let’s be real. Try using the word “steampunk” the next time you strike up conversation with a group of new acquaintances. In all likelihood, you’ll be rewarded with a couple of blank stares and a dull look. Or you might get a hipster who will be happy to earn his hipster badge by chiming in with an opinion that suggests he once heard the term and is therefore entitled to an opinion on the subject. “Oh cool,” you might think, “This guy knows about steampunk.” (This is what earns the hipster his badge.)

To carry on with the hypothetical but all-too-real conversation, someone else, overhearing the conversation asks, “What’s steampunk?” This is the situation our hipster friend has just been waiting for. The chance to utter the phrase “Victorian sci-fi” is what Steampunk-Savvy Hipster has been waiting for. In all likelihood, he’s been waiting for weeks, and you just made his Friday by bringing up the subject in the first place.

But the point here is that it’s still underground enough that not everyone knows what it is. It’s beginning to reach the mainstream, sure, but steampunk hasn’t really reached the public view the way some other genres have. If it was fully mainstream, hipsters wouldn’t earn any hipster points for knowing what steampunk is.

I’ll call steampunk mainstream just as soon as a Gail Carriger novel-turned-movie reaches cinemas near me

Be honest with me. The average person knows the name Edward Cullen (hint: he’s the glittery disco ball that passes for a vampire these days) but has never even heard of Alexia Tarabotti. We all know Harry Potter, but very few of us know Dylan Sharp. There are plenty of 50 Cent fans out there, but how many of us rock out to Professor Elemental?

We’ve seen hints of steampunk in the mainstream, but just hints. Dr. Who has plenty of steampunk undertones; indeed, a few episodes have been blatantly steampunk. We’ve had the recent Sherlock Holmes films, which featured a few steampunk gadgets but were more gaslamp than outright steampunk. There was also an outrageously bad Will Smith western sci-fi action comedy flick that most movie-goers have mercifully forgotten, but which steampunk enthusiasts often misguidedly cite to explain steampunk to the uninitiated. Yes, it’s probably the best-known example of something blatantly steampunk in mainstream cinema, but please, do avoid using that example.

I, for one, refuse to be satisfied that this is it for steampunk. This can’t possibly be steampunk at its most popular. No, until I see a book universally recognised by the steampunk community as one of the best examples of steampunk, turned into a Hollywood film, I won’t be ready to accept that steampunk has reached its height of popularity. There is simply far too much amazingly good steampunk waiting to be discovered by the mainstream.

And for all you hipsters who think you know steampunk well enough to dismiss it, you may want to do a bit more homework first. I hate to defer to my own hipster cred here, but I’ve been into steampunk since before it was cool (ok, truth be told, steampunk has always been cool, even before I was aware of it, but just go with it), and I’d even be willing to put my hipster badge on the line. I’m willing to bet that there are some excellent examples of steampunk that you haven’t heard of yet. So, hey, why not give it another shot before you write it off? I’ll be blogging about some of my favourite steampunk things here. Books, projects, home decor, crafts, fashion…

Steampunk all of the things!

Scribblers’ Den

We do have an armory

I am a member of the Scribblers’ Den. This might not seem like something to brag about. After all, until just this very moment, you’ve probably never heard of Scribblers’ Den. Still, when I say “I’m a member of Scribblers’ Den,” I am bragging, and I should. It’s something worth bragging about.

The internet is a strange place, fraught with more dangers than Winterfell. A quick trip to the comments section of any random YouTube video should be enough to inform you of the trolls that lurk in the dark corners of the web. And let’s not get started on internet dating sites! Yikes. As the old maps used to say, here be dragons. And yet, across the cold, distant deserts of cyberspace, there exist havens where conversation is polite and faces are friendly. Scribblers’ Den is just one of those places.

Recently, we celebrated the Den’s one-year anniversary. How did we celebrate? With a tea party, of course! Members were encouraged to have a cup of tea throughout the day, posting photos on the comment wall, which we use as if it’s a chat messaging board, and to participate in tea dueling. We were also tasked with writing a 250-word short story.

We do have an armory, but denizens (as we call ourselves) are not quick to draw arms. Some of us have likened the den to an airship with a comfortable den, with a fireplace, comfy leather chairs, and an (aforementioned) armory. The airship travels the globe as we discuss subjects like steampunk, writing, and tea. We have members from across the globe. Australia, America, the UK, Canada.

But wait, there’s more!

I’ve been in writing groups before. None of them have been as active, or as friendly, as the Den. Not only that, but I have been incredibly impressed with the level of talent within our ranks. Sure, there may be some bias there, but I know I have a tendency to be more judgmental than praising when it comes to reading the works of fellow writers. And I have been nothing but impressed.

There is a definite focus on indie writers, but this is hardly a rule. We just haven’t had bestselling writers banging at our door, asking to be let aboard; we’d be happy to have them, but it hasn’t happened. There has been a shift, however, in the past several years. The culture of publishing has been undergoing a change that’s seen more and more indie publishers using self-pub services like create space and lulu. Of course this means there are a lot more poorly written books out there (there are simply more books available and fewer people screening these books for quality). On the other hand, there are a lot of brilliant books, waiting to be discovered. If you’re looking for one of these, you might try reading something penned by one of my fellow denizens. I’m confident you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Why not check out Jack Tyler’s Beyond The Rails series? Or how about Mark Lingane’s Tesla? Ichabod Temperance has a whole series, Steve Moore has an alternate American history novel, William J Jackson mashes up superheroes with steampunk, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can find a more complete list of denizen-created books on the Empire Booksellers page, here.

If you’re still wondering why I’m proud to be a member of the Scribblers’ Den, there’s still more. We’ll have an announcement to make later this month, and I’m pretty excited about it. Stay tuned!

I’m blogging

Me? Blogging? Since when?

Well, hypothetical reader, since you hypothetically asked, since now. Since just this very moment. But don’t act so surprised. Really, the only thing odd about the fact that I’m blogging is that until now, I hadn’t been. The real question then is why now? Why wasn’t I blogging when I visited London and Paris to conduct research for my debut novel? Why didn’t I blog when I was writing for Sins of a Dark Age? Why start now when in the past two weeks I’ve been too busy to actually get any work done on my writing?

To be entirely honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. I suppose, in a way, I’m blogging because I want to be accountable to my readers. My hypothetical readers. They (and if you’re reading this, then by they I mean you) are hypothetical, because to have readers, you need to have written something. And I have. It’s just not ready yet. It needs to be revised. And in order for me to get revisions done, I need to have this handy little thing that I like to call “free time.”

Free time? What’s that?

It may seem contradictory to speak about a lack of free time, when, after all, this blog didn’t just write itself. I’ve taken precious time out of my day to start blogging. Rather than complaining about not having time to write, I could have been actually writing. But then again, perhaps not.

Because the truth is, free time is not the only prerequisite to productivity. You may be surprised to learn that writers, among other human beings, are notorious procrastinators. We require inspiration, motivation, and above all, caffeination.

It is my hope that talking about writing and interacting with those aforementioned hypothetical readers will help provide some amount of motivation. At the very least, it should help me get in the habit of putting words on paper without the added pressure of calling it “writing.” After all, this isn’t writing…it’s blogging.

So, be on the lookout, faithful reader, for upcoming posts. I’ll be blogging about writing, reading, and all things steampunk. Heck, I might even post pictures of my cats! Hmm…I guess I’ll need to acquire some cats.