Digital Publishing

By Bethany Maines

Recently, I’ve been learning about the nitty gritty “how-to” of e-publishing.  While there are many how-to’s on how to put your story up for sale in the virtual marketplace, learning how to make an epub file is a lot more difficult and confusing.

As someone trained in how to make print books, this status is infuriating to me.  I can make words magically appear on paper – why is the screen any more difficult?  But as it turns out epub formatting is more akin to website programming than to traditional book design.  Both epub and websites must account for the fact that the designer can never be certain what or how the end user will view their product.  Will it be on a phone, a tablet, or a desktop screen?  Will it be a horizontal or vertical?  Which operating system will be accessing the file?  All of these factors play into how an e-book is seen and creating a file that can be used in ANY format means that many of the traditional design elements beloved by graphic designers, such as color, size, and forced white space, must be set aside. Learning to create an epub is a bit like feeding content into a slot in the wall, letting the machine in the next room whir away, and then trying to guess how the machine works by looking at the book it produces

In the last few years website programming has experienced a burst of development that can make creating a website an almost drag and drop, WYSISWYG experience.  Meanwhile, digital publishing lags behind, still in it’s infancy.

Take a look at these images of the first page of my third Carrie Mae Mystery novel, High-Caliber Concealer.  One is a screen cap from a mobile phone kindle app and the other is a photo of the printed book.


You’ll notice several differences – the large area of white space before the chapter title is gone and the fonts are not the same.  Fonts in epub’s must utilize a websafe font or embed the font within the file.  But, not all devices recognize embedded fonts, and they make a file larger and some platforms take a percentage out of an author’s royalty based on download size (you’re hogging space on their server).

However, there are some similarities that the programmer managed to achieve.  Notice how the gap between “Brunch” and “Mexico” mimics the print version?  And you’ll see that while the font isn’t the same, the font hierarchy and general sizing of the chapter information is the same as the print version.

And beyond the appearance of words on a screen there is the tricky business of making all the chapters appear in the right order and having a hyper-linked (click and go) table of contents that allow readers to navigate easily through the book.

No digital book is as simple as a word doc you type at home.  So if you see a well-crafted book on your e-reading device, take a moment to appreciate the book programmer!

Bethany’s Rules for Marketing

In my quest for world book domination I frequently peruse tips on how to better market myself/books.  Some come up with some interesting strategies that are worth pursuing and then there’s this list…

Top-10-Book-Marketing-TipsI won’t mention the name of the blog I found it on because I don’t believe in public shaming.  But let’s just assess a few of the items on this list shall we?

Comment on Blogs – The theory is that you will become recognized and friends with other blog commenters as well as those running the blog and then you will RISE TO FAME!  Or… not.  Of course, having additional friends will help you expand your fan base.  But pursuing that strategy for the sake of selling books is so lacking in any genuine feeling that it will actually turn people against you.

Bethany Rule #1 – always be your best self online.  Only comment on a blog if you have something interesting and positive to add to the conversation. Trolls don’t sell books.

Create a Viral Video – Let’s just hop right on that shall we?  We’ll get out or cell phones and film our cats and then, bam, done!  As this article on Slate indicates, only 10% of YouTube videos get more than 1000 views.  Videos these days are higher in quality and there a simply MORE of them out there than in the beginning days of social media. Here’s my attempt at a viral video – it’s awesome, you should watch it.  But I only paid for food for the crew and a make-up artist to make the video happen, everything else was done in trade.  I felt comfortable with my investment  and I view the video as a great sales tool to introduce people to my book series, but I never counted on it going viral.

Bethany Rule #2 – if you have to pay a lot of money for a product that you’re going to giveaway for free, it’s probably not worth it.

Go on National TV – Yup, I’m just going to dial up Oprah right now, promise her some bread, and book myself on National TV.  Getting air time, particularly on a National level, is one of the things that happens when you’re ALREADY famous.  There’s a reason Donald Trump has ceased to advertise.  He’s getting 15% of the national news time (according to a recent news piece I saw on my local news) and 50% of the election coverage.  He doesn’t NEED to advertise.   I’m not recommending that you be Donald Trump – one is more than enough – but being getting air time is something that you either pay for, or you get because your famous for something already.

Bethany Rule #3 – work to be locally famous.  Join groups.  Send press releases.  Volunteer to judge writing contests.  Talk to people.  Network and connect – people sell books.

The internet is full of many tips, some are more helpful than others.  I just hope that you find mine a little more helpful than the one from the blog that shall remain nameless.

Suprise! It’s a Book!

The most surprising thing for me about being published was how much fun it sucked out of writing. I don’t suppose an agent, editor, or marketing person ever intends to suck the joy out of someone else’s life, but my experience with the publishing industry has been that mostly it’s a joy suck. I went from writing with a gleeful eagerness to staring at the computer screen in annoyance and spending far more time on marketing than I ever predicted.


2015-06-23 10.43.53I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by it. As a graphic designer by trade, I have a keen understanding of the collaborative nature of creating art that meets the needs of multiple user groups. If you don’t know what that means, then may God bless you and keep you in that state. Graphic Design (in my case specializing in print and signage) is an artistic endeavor designed to inform a consumer about a particular item, message, or company. I could spend a books worth on the craft of graphic design, but basically it is a balancing act between my vision as an artist and the vision of a client. In an ideal situation, both visions mesh to create art. In the worst case scenario, someone who thinks they could do your job if only they knew more about “the Photoshop” stands behind you and tells you what to do.

But writing was something that was mine – completely, gloriously – mine. I wrote my first published novel Bulletproof Mascara to please myself. Every day of writing was like falling down the rabbit hole and discovering what came next. Some days were harder than others, but each day I spent with my imaginary friends was fun. When the manuscript was complete, I made the edits suggested by beta readers because I agreed with them. Everything I did for that first book was because I liked it that way.

Then came New York. There were changes (more changes), changing editors, (changing economy) and suggestions that I “work on plotting,” work on this… work on that… Basically, stop pantsing it. Stop dropping down the rabbit hole. Stop having fun. Sit up straight. Brush your teeth. Cut your hair. Get a real job.

OK, maybe no one ever actually said those last few. But it felt like that.

So why stick with it?

Oh, sigh. That’s the worst part. Because it made me a better writer. My plotting did need work. My “perfect” text can always stand to be pared back, because damn, but I do get verbose on occasion. And let’s face it, the things I don’t know about grammar will continue to infuriate copyeditors for years to come even as I slowly improve. Then, it turns out, that marketing (AKA talking to readers) is actually enjoyable. Who knew?

It took me awhile to reclaim the joy in writing, but self-publishing a few short stories and the kind comments of readers helped. I now look forward to my next adventures in writing and hope that you will too.