For me the choice between commercial print publishing and self-publishing electronically was not a difficult decision to reach. Trying to break into print is forbidding. Not to mention slow. Say I want to sell a short story to a magazine. I have to research what magazines might be in the market for that story. That is not too onerous, and can be kind of fun, but it takes time. Far more time consuming is the submission processes. The manuscript has to be prepared according to the publisher’s instructions, and those vary from publisher to publisher. The frustrating part is the long wait to receive a rejection slip, usually three or four months and sometimes longer. Most publishers don’t accept multiple submissions, and that means waiting for months to be rejected, and then going through the whole process again to submit a story to a second publisher. Before you know it a year or two has passed trying to get a story accepted. Another problem is that I live in Canada and pay international postage rates to submit to most publishers, and mailing costs can mount up. And if a story is finally accepted by a publisher it typically won’t be printed and in circulation for several more months, and publishers don’t pay until a story is published.

An anecdote is illustrative of the pitfalls. I saw an advertisement soliciting stories for a themed narrative nonfiction anthology. A good “true” story came to mind, and I sat down and wrote it up, revised and proofread it, and submitted it. It was accepted, and the editor sent me a copy with changes, most of which I agreed to, and was told it was submitted as is. The book was postponed three times, possibly because of the recession or other work commitments by the editors or publishers. The third delay simply deferred the launch date by a month or two. So two years and a month after the story was accepted the book was launched. When my copy of the book came in the mail I discovered my story had been edited fairly substantially and had a new ending. I did not really object to most of the changes. The new ending was a bit hokey but fit the theme of the book. I couldn’t figure out why they combined some paragraphs the way they did, but didn’t lose any sleep over it. Then I learned that my tax form was missing in a group email sent to all contributors. Somehow it went astray and had to be resubmitted, causing a delay of another month or two before I received my check for $100. It was a short piece, and per word it paid pretty good.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to slam that publisher, or publishers in general. Publishing is a tough business. Reading the submission guidelines online it soon becomes apparent that publishers are swamped with manuscripts. I keep waiting for a publisher to brag that it has to use a forklift to move its slush pile. Publishers have their own suite of problems that they have to deal with, and writers too often don’t appreciate what is involved.

Publishing ebooks eliminates or reduces some of that suite of problems, and as a self-publisher I have control over the whole process. Although, to be honest, I would like to turn some of the process over to more capable people, like proofreading and designing a cover. A graphic artist I am not, nor am I a good proofreader, especially of my own writing. Too often I read what is supposed to be on the page instead of what is really there in black and white.

Let’s move on to the positive factors influencing my decision, and those of many other ebook self-publishers. Control of pricing is one you will see mentioned ad naseum. Forget it. For me it is not an issue. I am trying to build an audience, and intend to publish free ebooks, at least for a while yet. I could use the revenue, but I would rather have readers than sell ten or twenty copies of something I have written—and how much money would I make selling that kind of volume. Not much!

Bookstores never run out of stock with ebooks, and my books won’t go out of print. I like that. But what really sold me on publishing ebooks is that much criticized objective of modern Man—instant gratification. Yes, I am being honest about it. Publishing ebooks gives me instant gratification. I am not a patient person, and by publishing ebooks I don’t have to wait weeks or months to see my work in circulation, I can see my books online in a couple of hours, or a day or two, at most. The ease and speed with which I can make revisions—like when my inadequate proofreading skills are pointed out to me—is a third and by no means unimportant factor influencing my decision to publish ebooks.

Doing it all myself is kind of fun and challenging, too.

I have not completely given up on print publishing. Publishing in both media helps build an audience, and I like getting paid to write. I have worked as a reporter and journalist.

For anyone interested in the fun and challenge of self-publishing I suggest you take the time to do a little research. You might find a few useful tips and services on my links page. I don’t have a lot of experience yet, but I like doing research, and you might as well benefit from it. The wheel has been invented; you don’t have to reinvent it. You should also take a look at Smashwords’ slideshow, embedded below.

Smashwords is one of several competing ebook publisher/distributors. It doesn’t necessarily produce the most attractive ebooks on the market but it offers an unparalleled distribution network. Some ebook stores will work with self-publishers, but not all will. Their are other companies and services that can get your ebooks listed on Barnes and Noble and Apple and Sony, but Smashwords is the only service I know of that does not charge upfront fees for getting you those listings. They do charge a commission on any sales that are made through those outlets, but it is reasonable and is deducted from earnings. I published my story as free ebook, and Smashwords doesn’t make anything from it. But it was partially the advice of Smashwords founder, Mark Coker,  that encouraged me to publish it gratis. Smashwords is what I call a full service company; it provides tips and guides for marketing, and encourages writers to list their books on other sites. A good many Smashwords authors also publish free ebooks on the (mostly) free ebook site feedbooks.com. With a little research and experimentation you will learn what works best for you. I am still in that process. Good luck. 
 
 
Multiple format ebook stores and web sites provide a valuable service for readers and for writers who, obviously, want as wide a distribution as possible. Many, if not all, multi-format sites rely on automated conversion software to generate ebooks in a format selected by the customer. Based on my limited experience, the automated conversion programs work pretty well for many of the popular formats (ePub, mobi, lrf, and mabye fb2), albeit with some minor changes to the original formatting.

But recently I published a short story as an ebook with smashwords.com, and the pdb edition of the story lost a key piece of formatting, the italics used, by convention, to indicate unspoken thoughts. Without those italics the story can be confusing to read, and I was forced to cancel the pdb version. That is unfortunate, pdb is a popular ebook format, and I like the desktop eReader. My story Healthy or Else can be downloaded from smashwords.com in ePUB, mobi, lrf, PDF, and .rtf formats, so alternatives are available for anyone who wants to read the story.

The problem was not caused by smashwords automated conversion software. They call it the “meatgrinder.” The same problem occurred when I tried converting the story to pdb online using Zamzar, and Calibre also lost the italics when I converted the story to pdb. 2ePub wisely doesn’t output pdb files. Not being a programmer I was forced to conclude the problem lies within the pdb format itself, and that was confirmed by searching the forums on Mobile Read.

I wanted to make a properly formatted version of the story available on my web site, if nowhere else. I found two software programs for formatting pdb files on the eReaderLibrary site, owned by Barnes and Noble. Naturally, I tried the free software first. This program, called Dropbook, requires use of the Palm Markup Language. It seemed a bit intimidating when I first looked at it, but the list of commands was not all that long and I decided to give it a whirl.

Trial and error is a slow process, but after a time I started to figure out how to use the program and the Palm markup language, and my progress picked up speed as I overcome a couple of initial problems I induced myself and the learning curve ramped up. Some time later (I don’t want to admit how much later) I was nearly finished and had searched through the character sets and added a couple of nice finishing touches. Now all I had left to do was attach the cover, and that should be easy, or so I thought. It turned out not to be so easy. In fact, I never did get it attached. Despite the relatively unimportant lack of a cover, the pdb download link on the Healthy or Else page is the only properly formatted pdb version anywhere, and will provide the best reading experience for the eReader and Palm devices. Or you can download it using this link: Healthy or Else.pdb. More recently, the story was listed in pdb format on memoware.com

A pdb version can be downloaded from manybooks.net, but it is generated by an automated file conversion system and the italics are converted to the same font as the rest of the text. I can't cancel the pdb file on manybooks.net, however. Nor can I test the formatting of all the many formats available from manybooks.net. I simply don't have readers or devices to view files in all of those formats. When a site tries its best to provide files in every conceivable format some are bound to work better than others. And manybooks.net is a stellar site for readers. Every ebook is free, it doesn't charge member fees, and is operated by volunteers. What more can you ask for?

I feel much the same way about Smashwords. It provides a good service for indie writers, and helps connect us with readers.

The Smashwords style guide even warns writers to avoid complex formatting - now I see why. A novel I am working on will have the same problem with italics. Both it and the short story were written or too far advanced to change after I looked at the option of electronic publishing. In the future I am going to have to learn new literary techniques to get inside my character's heads.
 
 
Writing is communication, the transference of thoughts and images between two members of the same species. People were communicating successfully for millennia before dictionaries and rules of grammar formalized the art of written communication.

I blame lawyers, while confessing that I have not researched the historicity of the legal origin of formal rules of grammar. Those rules are clearly legal trickery, and are not necessary for social communication. A billion emails every day are proof of that.

Preventing ambiguity in the laws and in legal contracts is a legitimate justification for the legal professions obsession with grammatical rules. 

I accept the counter argument that they can be used to create loopholes.

If you accept the assertion that one of grammar's functions is to reduce ambiguity, then it is largely irrelevant to the art of fiction. Fiction and literature thrive on ambiguity, ambivalence, double meanings, and multiple interpretations. Ambiguity keeps a host of literary critics and university professors employed, and stimulates coffee house debates.

Grammar can be a creative tool. In a passage in one of her novels Virginia Wolfe uses semicolons to help create a sense of psychological repression. (Sorry, I can't look it up for you. My books are molding in storage).

But don't use this blog as an excuse to ignore the rules of grammar, you will hand your critics a weapon to turn against you. On the other hand, if you want to make $100 per hour arguing about the position of a comma, forget writing and get a law degree. You will be in good company. A small army of undergraduate English majors has gone on to law school, and a few of them later wrote some pretty good novels and created the genre of legal thrillers.

My apologies to all editors and proofreaders out there who do a stellar job of restoring order to grammatical chaos.

Good writing usually - but not always - adheres fairly closely to rules of grammar. Or so we have been taught to believe. Deviate from it with clear intent and artistry. 
 

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