Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Creating Paper Books and eBooks

I'm composing Delux using Scrivener. When I released Draft 5 for review, I wanted to create paper and electronic versions of the book from Scrivener. How did I do that?

Paper Version

For the paper version, I used Lulu.com as my print-on-demand provider. I haven't vetted Lulu as a publisher for the final version of my book, but for drafts to send to readers, Lulu is fine.

Lulu accepts many formats, but PDF is the preferred format. Scrivener is great for composing, but not so good for formatting, especially to custom page sizes.

I used Microsoft Word to format Delux, so I took these steps:
  1. Output a .doc file from Scrivener.
  2. Open the .doc file with Word.
  3. Download a Word template from Lulu for the appropriate book size (5.5" x 8.5" in my case)
  4. Copy the entire book text from the first Word window (hint: use <ctl>-A or <command-A> to select all), then paste it into the blank Lulu template file.
  5. Spell check the document one final time, adjust the text and create a PDF version of the book interior (more on this step below).
  6. Upload the PDF book interior to Lulu. Some online discussions say that the PDF that's standard with Apple products doesn't look good on paper because it's designed to look good on a screen. These discussions suggest using an Adobe product like Acrobat to create a PDF book interior. I found the PDF output from my Mac perfectly acceptable when printed.

Step 5 is a bit tedious. Here are some specific pointers for Step 5:
  • The Lulu template has a lot of nice features like even- and odd-page pagination and spacing. For some reason, though, the template has extra vertical space between paragraphs. You may want to make the spacing the same as it is between lines. You'll also need to adjust block quotes and other non-standard formatting.
  • Footnotes are tricky. If you want footnotes to appear as endnotes at the end of each chapter instead of at the end of the book, you have to create section breaks at the end of each chapter containing a footnote in order for the footnote counter to reset to one and for Word to know where the chapter endnotes go. After you insert section breaks, make sure the pagination continues appropriately across section boundaries in the Headers and Footers.
  • I didn't add a Table of Contents. Follow Word directions for section breaks if you want a Table of Contents in your book. Same comment about pagination as above.
  • When you output to PDF, you have to specify (on a Mac, anyway) the paper size. In the Print dialog box, click on Layout and select Paper Handling. Click the Scale to fit Paper Size box and indicate paper size exactly the same as your book's template size. In my cases, I set a custom page size for a 5.5" x 8.5" book. If the paper size is, say, 8.5" x 11", the PDF may look okay, but Lulu won't know which part of the 8.5" x 11" page to use.
  • Thinking I might get a better PDF rendition if I used Lulu's PDF converter, I first tried uploading the .doc Word file I created after editing instead of the PDF file. For some reason, many (but not all) my editing changes reverted to the formatting in the Lulu template when I had Lulu convert my uploaded .doc file to PDF. Then I uploaded the PDF file and got strange error messages. It turned out that Lulu was attempting to process the .doc file I'd uploaded previously with the PDF file. The lesson is that, if you upload a new book interior file to Lulu, delete the previous files Lulu has stored (press the red delete "X").

After the book interior is done, you'll have to create a cover. If you're in a hurry, you can use Lulu's cover templates to create something in a few minutes. You'll have a chance to practice writing your back page book blurb.

After you finish the book interior and cover, you can make your book available for sale. I usually do this later after I buy a copy from Lulu for inspection. As an author, you pay Lulu at cost for copies. My book cost about $8 per copy delivered.

Leave yourself a few hours to create the print version. Lulu's process is straightforward, but time consuming. For instance, if you modify the interior, you have to go through the cover creation process again, too, even if you don't modify anything.

eBook Versions

eBooks come in two basic flavors, the epub format and the Kindle format. You can make PDF versions, too, but the popular online distributors don't use PDF. I've written about online formats in this post.

Here Scrivener is great! The Exporting eBooks video tutorial shows you how to create ePub and Kindle versions.

A bald-face plug: buy Scrivener 2.x  and support this blog.

For the Kindle version, you need to download files from Amazon. In the download files, Amazon has a lot of instructions on how to use these files. Ignore Amazon's instructions. When you compile your book, Scrivener will ask you for the folder that contains these downloaded files and figure out the rest.

Scrivener may not provide all the options you might want for formatting your eBook, but the alternatives can be expensive. Like hiring a consultant. I recommend trying Scrivener first, especially for drafts of your work. I suspect that Scrivener will improve its formatting options in time.

The next step is reading your eBooks. I'll save that for the next post.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Value of Deadlines

I finished the fifth draft of Delux about two weeks ago. Draft 4 was about 150k words, and Draft 5 came in just over 107k words. Publishers want an author's first novel to be 100k words because that's how their economics work – or worked in the days of paper-based products.

Most of the big cuts came from starting scenes later and ending them sooner. In Draft 5 I divided the chapters into sections for the first time. That made it easy to delete transitions. It also showed me what I was writing for myself (how the characters got from Point A to Point B, for instance) and what I was writing for the reader (how the characters changed).

I could've spent another month trimming down to 100k words. But I had a deadline. My editor is available next week to read Draft 5. Given turnaround times to print the book and mail it, I had a cutoff date to upload a file to the Lulu.com. That's good.


I took more time off between the fourth and fifth drafts than I have between other drafts, and it gave me the distance I needed to make large cuts. Somehow my words weren't so precious after time away or, if they were precious, they were expendable in the name of clarity and brevity. Time away from the work, it turned out, was as important as time with the work. Re-reading the Draft 4 after a few months away, the larger philosophical questions changed. Delux isn't as much about beauty and belief as I'd thought. It's more about insight. As I wrapped up Draft 5, I knew it was time to spend some time away, get some feedback, let the words rest for a few months, give my unconscious mind space.

The deadline was good. It forced my hand, so to speak, to wrap up my current thoughts. I can't wait to get back to Draft 6, but now I know to take some time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Internet and Power

While writing the fifth draft of Delux, I've been thinking a lot about organizations.

Religious organizations vary, but typically have some hierarchy, at least at a local level. The Catholic Church is highly structured with worldwide reach. Ultimate authority rests with the pope at the Vatican. In the Anglican and Episcopalian churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury plays a pope-like role, but with much less authority than the Vatican. Anglicans meet every ten years at the Lambeth Conference to vote on issues facing the organization and, while the Archbishop has influence, things don't always go his way. All religious organizations rely on some text as the basis of their faith.

The art world has no central authority or central text. Players in the art world build their influence in the markets to create power. Newer works usually refer to or build on older works, but don't adhere to a "Bible." The lack of central authority allows artists and galleries to experiment without risk of excommunication.

The difference in organizational structures influences, in turn, how necessarily conservative religions are and how necessarily liberal the arts are. To maintain the legitimacy of their hierarchies, religions cannot waver in the beliefs they hold. On the flip side, to sell art, artists and galleries have to respond to and reflect changes in society. Repeating what comes before benefits religion and makes art cliché.

Then comes the Internet.

Francis Fukuyama writes about the way societies evolve, from tribes to either glorious democracies or failed states. I listened to a recent speech Fukuyama gave at the World Affairs Council. It's a captivating talk. He argues that government requires three things: power, rule of law, and accountability. He then gives examples of differences in how these three ingredients mix in different societies.

In a democracy, for instance, Fukuyama says that the power is in the military and police, the rule of law is embodied in the written laws and judicial system, and accountability derives from free elections. What happens when the Internet makes information ubiquitous? All three parts of Fukuyama's equation shift.

In the religious world, that has led to more open discussions of things like sexual abuse by priests. In the art world, the Internet has played the economics of scarcity (only a limited number of copies of this work) against the economics of ubiquity (everyone can see this work for free). In the political world, arguably the Internet has fostered the whole new class of (relatively) peaceful uprising in the Middle East.

The fun of setting Delux at the turn of the millennium is that readers will look back and know how things turned out ten or fifteen years later. The work for me in this draft is showing the influence of the Internet before the characters could have understood all its implications.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bishop Jim Swilley Comes Out

The protagonist in Delux is an Episcopalian priest who comes out and leaves the church.

One night in the car, I happened to hear Bishop Swilley on NPR in an interview about coming out. Later I found the video below in which Swilley comes out to his congregation. He's a great speaker and he anticipates all the arguments he expects about being closeted and being homosexual. It's a very moving ... well, sermon, I guess.

Watch live streaming video from bishopjimswilley at livestream.com

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Killing a Character

I had this great idea to write a post about killing a character. Then I realized I'd already written it.

So, I'm cheating in this post. Just a link to the original post on my other blog.

Since this blog is also about thanking the people who are helping me write Delux, I want to thank (again) my sister-in-law Anne Damron for helping me find Alex Peabody, the Aquatic Specialist & Armory Manager for the California State Parks. And another thanks to Alex. Also, to Stephen Halasz who pointed out the difference between surfing and big wave surfing in the first place.

Also, here's some help on killing a character, if you really have to.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Art Research

My friend Rabih says that if he can make readers believe the Brooklyn Bridge is in Paris, he's writing good fiction.

So, why research a fiction book? The simple answer is, I'm not as good at writing fiction as Rabih.

I researched three topics while writing Delux: art, religion, and writing. Not that I was stupid about these topics, but I wanted to write with some authority, as it were, about concepts like the latest art craze and the motivations for a gay priest to leave the church.

Research takes many forms. Let's consider my art research.

Practitioners provide the practical insights.

I started writing Delux when I was hanging around with Edmundo de Marchena, a sculptor and video artist. I witnessed Edmundo create a jiggly piece called Homage to the Sexually Compulsive. It started when a museum accepted Edmundo's proposal for the piece and ended, months later, when all the parts came together the day before opening night. I learned how one artist comes up with and executes a concept, the importance of studio space, the relationship between an artist and the art world.

Jody Jock is another San Francisco artist who let me peak into his creative process. Jody makes exquisite posed photo studies, mostly of young San Francisco men. He's been kind enough to tell me about finding and posing models, his transition from film to digital photography, the ongoing struggle to market his work.

My friend Bob Van Breda has been transitioning from businessman to artist. He's allowed me to make videos of his work and his creative process. Our quarterly computer-and-dinner meetings are therapy for both of us as we work through our respective projects. A pair of my shoes are hanging on his shoe tree in Sonoma.

Another person who helped enormously was Chris Perez, the owner of Ratio 3, a gallery in San Francisco. Chris took time to give me feedback on an early draft of Delux, on the chapter about CalArts and opening night. I got to hang out at Ratio 3 and see how Chris deals with artists and collectors, the schmooze, the sales process, the money, finding and developing talent, shipping art to shows all over the world. Plus Chris taught me to cook a really great pasta sauce with pancetta.

On and off, I've peaked into the life of a collector with Byron Meyer. Byron always tells me he's not a collector. He hangs plenty of great art on his wall, though. His collection reflects his interest in local artists. He has pieces by the likes of Jeff Koons, but the works that spoke to me were by local artists like David Parks. Hearing Byron tell stories about the art world is a treat, a who's who of collectors, curators, and artists.

Galleries and museums have stories to tell.

I've always loved going to art shows. Art collections and curated shows tell stories, stories about art, about the artists, stories about history, stories about the collectors and curators. I visited shows frequently while writing, from small galleries like Ratio 3 to large museums.

Small galleries are the hardest to keep track of. I have to search them out, get to know the gallerist, find the galleries that share my interests. But the small galleries serve up the treasures that no one has found.

Large museums are good about marketing and explaining their exhibits. They have the resources to educate viewers, providing webpages, audio tours, and docents to help viewers learn about art.

Visiting galleries had other rewards. I went to the Beirut Art Center (as in Beirut, Lebanon) and met, of all people, Kara Walker. I'd read a New Yorker profile about her rise in the art world, and based one of the Delux characters on that profile. Sharing mezze afterwards with Kara and a group from the art center was like having dinner with a fictional character in real life.

Of course, I encourage everyone to visit art shows as much as they can, even if they aren't writing about art.

Reading about art is a good way to learn how to write about art.

Art books describe art, artistic process, and the experience an art piece creates. They also put art in some context. Reading them taught me how to describe art, and filled my characters with a wide range of opinions.

Here's a list of some art books I read while I was writing Delux:

  • Purposes of Art, by Albert Elsen. My mom audited art history courses from Elsen at Stanford. The book examines the role of art in society, its uses in religion, politics and commerce. It's the broadest overview of art on this list and, by far, the most thorough. It covers art through the 1980s.
  • The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, by Michael Kimmelman. Nawaaz Ahmed gave me this book before he left for his MFA program. Nawaaz and I shared an interest in writing and art shows. This book is full of insights about contemporary art and artists. In each chapter, Kimmelman writes about an experience with art that shaped his life or his views.
  • Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction, by Julian Stallabrass. Very short and very informative.
  • Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness, by Chris Kraus. I found this series of essays about Los Angeles art around the turn of the millennium at Hennessey + Ingalls, a wonderful art and architecture book store in Santa Monica. It provided me a thoughtful and deliciously written behind-the-scenes look at Los Angeles and its art. Kraus has a way of working all your senses.
  • The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, by Leo Steinberg. Carol Hoidra turned me on to this quirky study of the representation of the penis of Jesus. So strange that it was completely engaging.
  • The End of Art, by Donald Kuspit. This book was turgid and ideological. I disliked it so much, I read it just to see if it would say at least one thing I could agree with. It also gave my characters some of their most pejorative views of the art world.

Soon I hope to add Delux to the list!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Product Placement

I use a lot of proper product and service names in Delux. One of my early draft readers, Jamie Bernstein, asked whether that was good idea. Another, Julie Butterfield, asked why the protagonist drives, of all cars, a Bentley.

One big problem with product names is longevity. Books only 30 or 40 years old with popular product names sometimes don't make sense now. Products and product names evolve rapidly. It's even hard to use phrases like "dial your number" that have technological implications. When was the last time anyone used a phone that had a dial?

On the other hand, the rapid advance of technology and, specifically, the Internet has required the invention of new words to describe entirely new products and services. Describing the product or service instead of using its name might provide better longevity, but at the expense of brevity.

"Google" is perhaps the most famous of these new words. "Google" is a variation of the word "googol," which is the name of the number defined as one with one hundred zeros following. In other words, a lot. Replacing the word "search" with the word "google" is perfectly acceptable now. For instance, "I googled 'Abe Lincoln' today." It sounds vaguely sexual when the subject is a proper noun.

Delux takes place at the advent of the Internet, when services like Google and Evite were introduced. "Google" seemed like a safe bet. I took a chance using the word "Evite," but even if people forget about the actual service, the name describes the utility and lets the reader know it's an online service.

Then there is "In-N-Out." Talk about vaguely sexual. But the In-N-Out product has religious connections that help a scene in the book. The description "burger joint" wasn't as loaded as "In-N-Out." Will In-N-Out exist in 100 years? Probably not, but it won't be hard for the reader to understand that it's a drive-through hamburger restaurant. If there are drive-through restaurants in 100 years.

Those are trade-offs of some of the brand names I used in Delux. I'm betting that the Internet will help Delux's longevity, especially if most unit sales turn out to be eBooks with links built in to explain the references. As a first time novelist, it's unlikely I'll negotiate product placement for the book. With eBooks, though, it possible to imagine product links and even advertising in completely new ways. Product names may be my new best friends.

But, hey, what about that Bentley.

The Bentley story comes from a Herb Caen piece I read growing up. Caen (re)told the story of the guy who runs off to Mexico with his girlfriend, and writes to his wife from the hotel, "Sell the Porsche and send me the money." The wife places an ad in the paper: "Porsche for sale. $5." You know the ending. That's before craigslist, of course.

I had a protagonist who needed a car. An important car. So I started re-working the Caen story. As I thought about special cars, I remembered driving around Los Angeles in a Bentley. It's fabulous and stupid. And people gaze. Then I thought about the name "Bentley." The first syllable. What other car would a gay protagonist drive?

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's Your Book About?

"What's it about?"

That's the first question when I tell someone I'm writing my first novel. To me, it's harder to answer than "What's Beethoven's Fifth Symphony about?" and almost as crass as "What do you do for a living?"

In the first novel writing class I took, the teacher asked each of the students to say a few words about the novel they wanted to write. Some students didn't answer. I suppose they were afraid someone might copy their idea, or they weren't sure, or they were embarrassed. The only thing I knew about my novel then was that a priest came out, left the church and started an art gallery in Los Angeles. I didn't know his name or what denomination he was.

Worrying that someone would steal my idea never occurred to me, and it seems less and less important as I continue to write. The way I consider plot problems and character inconsistencies and word choices is completely idiosyncratic. For example, sometimes when I'm waking up in the morning, in that doze between sleep and coffee, a word snaps into my brain that makes an entire chapter work. If someone took my idea for Delux and wrote novel, the result would be as different as giving the same melody to Haydn and Brahms and asking them to write a piece of music.

At some point, a writer needs a short answer to "What's it about?" For one thing, it saves time when someone inevitably asks. For another, as completion nears and marketing starts, a writer (or publisher) has to put a description on the cover (or on the web page) that engages readers enough to at least open the book and read a few sentences if not buy it. The short answer that ends up on the book cover has more to do with selling the book than its contents.

At first I'd answer that Delux was about belief and beauty, how religion and art relate to each other. Now I'm not sure. I realized as I was preparing for the fifth draft, that the book is about how the main character looks for insights and how he misses them, especially how he misses the second coming at the turn of the millennium. That answer probably won't sell too many copies, though. What short description will tease people to open the book? I'll let you know when I figure out what it's about.

Friday, April 15, 2011


When I started writing Delux, I wrote a dreadful first chapter. My friend Heidi Stern's response was a kind inquiry: does San Francisco have any writing programs?

I found The Writing Salon, a program that offers classes taught by writers. I'd studied English in college, but not creative writing. Good at criticism, decent writing skills, no idea how to create a scene or a character. Or suspense. The Writing Salon helped me with that.

Karen Bjorneby taught the course that helped me complete the first draft. The class was like Weight Watchers for writers: you commit to writing 10-15 pages a week and after a year, voila!, you have a first draft. The class format was to trade pages with a writing partner every week and meet with all the students once a month. My writing partners and I exchanged encouragement and feedback each week, as well as new pages. At the monthly meetings, the class reviewed a section of 20-25 pages from a few of the students.

If you're a first time writer, I highly recommend finding a partner, either through a class or through your own networks, who will hold you accountable for new pages.

Karen told a story about first drafts that has always stuck in my head. The first draft is different from all the other drafts. You start with nothing other than an idea. Finishing the first draft, Karen said, is like coming home from the quarry with a hunk of marble. You have a vague shape and a knowledge of the material, but you have major addition and subtraction ahead to sculpt your hunk of marble into the finished piece.

In under a year, I came home with my quarry, the first draft of Delux. I'd started with nothing more than an idea that I wanted to write about the dynamics of art, religion, and business, and an inspiration that an acquaintance who'd left a commune in Vermont to start an art gallery in Los Angeles might be the kernel of a main character.

Working through the first draft, I found out I write linearly, one chapter after the next. Not everyone does. I also found out by the third chapter that I was lost, couldn't keep track of characters or plot points. I stopped. I looked at some classic story structures. Then, for each of the planned chapters, I wrote a few sentences describing what had to happen, but not how. For a couple chapters, all I wrote was, "And then things get even worse." That was enough to keep my bearings. On I wrote to the end.

The first draft had problems, lots of problems, but I printed out a copy to redline anyway. I knew much more about the main character and his journey. I'd also met characters I'd never expected. A lunatic Dutch designer, a hunky Hollywood screenwriter, a lovely Afro-American artist. Some gods. More about them another time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Writing a Book Called Delux

I started writing Delux in May 2008. This morning, I worked on the fifth draft of chapter eleven.

On my walk around the neighborhood this afternoon, I decided to blog about my writing. I get lots of questions about writing. What's Delux about? When do you write? How did you come up with the idea? How many drafts will you write?

I'll answer the typical questions when I can, but I also want to dive deeper. Partly for the selfish journaling (writing is so selfish). Partly to help me work through ideas. Partly for readers, although the finished work is the finished work.

It seems a little late in the writing process to start blogging about it. When I started, I couldn't imagine this project taking more than a year. My goal-oriented side was sure it would be complete by 2009. I knew there was work after completing the first draft because there were characters who magically changed 20 years in age and plot points that didn't connect. I hoped by the second draft I would be close. Then friends brave enough to read it, and even braver to give me feedback, made it clear there was work to do. At the end of the fourth draft, I knew I'd taken a wrong turn.

Maybe I want to blog now because I feel so much better about the fifth draft. It doesn't feel quite like the final draft, but it's 23,000 words lighter so far and the words are working much harder.

This blog will focus on the process of writing and publishing Delux. For those who have story ideas in their head, maybe you'll read this and take the leap. For those voyeurs out there, here's your chance to get up close and personal. Take what you want, take what you need, but come along for the write.