Formatting an E-Book in 2014

Think of this as a disinterested public service message to all my fellow authors and small pressers and indie publishers. If you’re like me, you stumble your way through the e-book formatting process, reaching for Google every time you hit a fork in the road. Sometimes this works out well: the how-to article you find is 1) fairly recent, 2) authoritative, and 3) is confirmed by others on the Internet. Sometimes, though, you only get one or two of those criteria. And then what? You can waste a lot of time only to find out that the world has moved on.

Guido Henkel’s how-to guide for formatting an e-book (Take Pride in Your E-Book Formatting) clearly passes the test for 2) and 3). The nine-part series, while somewhat daunting at first blush, is authoritative on its face. The comments section sings the praises, as do many links from other authors around the web.

But…the timeliness of the series is in question. This came out in early 2011. Three years ago! Three years on the Internet is like nine years in real life – and in the world of the Kindle and its ilk, three years is probably more like thirty. Did they even have Kindles in 2011? Did they look the same? Did they act the same?

Is a web series from 2011 still relevant?

Well, I recently formatted The Promotion for the Kindle, following Henkel step by step. (It’s easier and quicker than it seems – don’t let the length scare you off, you save a LOT of time doing it this way.) And readers, I’m here to announce, that as of March 2014, it works like a dream. In fact it worked so well I went back to The Race and reformatted that one as well.

Bravo, Guido Henkel! Many thanks. (And a note to 2017 readers: you’re on your own!)

UPDATE: Guido Henkel stopped by the comments section for this post and offered up an explanation for his continued relevance that I wholeheartedly agree with. (In a forehead-smacking, but-of-course kind of way, as I mention…)

You can check out my own efforts at self-publishing by visiting my newly released author page. See anything wrong? Anything I could be doing better? Let me know in the comments or at!

Terrible Poem Breakdown: “The Liar”

The Terrible Poem Breakdown series analyzes poems that are just not making it. We do this with the best intentions but pull no punches. Previous entries in our series can be found at the bottom of the post.

As always, the only rules are that the poems cannot be intentionally bad and the poet must be completely willing to submit to the analysis. I’m not qualified to judge poems for their formal qualities or even their poetic merit. I offer only the opinion of a willing reader and honest opinion provider.

Off we go!

The Liar

On my way home from a student council trip
I rode shotgun while our guidance counselor drove.
Others in the backseat were listening to Walkmen.
He gave me some advice about getting out of town.
He’d seen others hold themselves back, their own worst enemy.
I asked him about some of the graduating seniors
The ones who seemed to be on their way.
I mentioned my neighbor.
A kid who lived across the street, his dad retired military.
I’d been impressed by his standardized test score
And his acceptance into the naval academy.
The driver winced. Cole? he asked. Is that what he’s telling people?
And I knew what I had known for years
But had chosen not to see.
My friend was lying. He’d always been a liar.
Something in him needed to boast, to brag,
To make himself into something he wasn’t.
He wound up working with his mom at the K-Mart in Janesville.
His mom, who didn’t regionally manage the place,
But sold products, an ordinary cashier.
Cole did it too. I saw him there once.
Maybe that was his plan all along:
Lie about his destination, his future.
Burn his bridges so he couldn’t stay.
Earn some pocket money on the night shift
Enough to buy a car and drive to California,
Someplace to start over
Somewhere to reinvent himself.
It’s not a bad plan. I like to think it’s true
The alternative is too horrible.
And when he saw me at K-Mart
Waiting in his line, smiling,
His mother one aisle over looking on, concerned
I who had known him and his family better than anyone in town
And he stared at his cash drawer and refused to acknowledge me
Even after I stupidly said his name three times, with greater urgency and confusion
Sure he hadn’t heard
As he took my money for the notebooks I was buying for college
I hope he was thinking about California
And that the brightness of his future life
Outshone what I represented at that moment, for all my smiling goodwill:
The life he hated and needed to escape.

I’ve been to Janesville! I might even know that K-Mart they’re referring to! I’m starting to think people are seriously manipulating this process. But once again I don’t care! This one has a sort of hangdog element to it that appeals to me. It is very, very difficult to endure.

People, I just watched the film Gravity. A truly fantastic film. And during the first twenty minutes or so, I was overwhelmed with anxiety about what I was about to endure. The only thing that kept me going? This thought:

I know this has a Hollywood ending.

I knew that somehow, some way, there would be a positive experience. Something cathartic would come out of this. And it did!

I’ve been guilty of this in my own writing. Not every story has a Hollywood ending. Even blog posts do not have to be uplifting all the time. But sometimes it’s okay to let a little sunlight in! A little hope! A little encouragement!

So when a poem starts out with a guy – a boy, a high school boy – too embarrassed to confess that he’s not as accomplished as he’s been pretending to be, I’d like to think there’s some kind of uplifting twist!

And that’s what the poet is looking for too! I like that the poet is looking for that! I can identify with the poet’s hope!

We know what probably happened to this guy. California! A dream. And dreams don’t come true at the Janesville K-Mart. It is the graveyard of dreams. Dead dreams are a daily blue light special, at the Janesville K-Mart.

Most of the time, anyway. But then…we can always hope.

As always my undying gratitude for the poet for being willing to submit to this scrutiny. Keep hope alive, poets!

Previous Broken-Down Terrible Poems:

The Futurists in Fat City

Umberto Boccioni via The New Inquiry

Just the other day it was the discovery of Charlie Chaplin’s novella. Now comes another article about Bologna:

Diners at the Bologna location were dubbed “experimental passengers,” seated in a room that resembled a fuselage, and served dishes named for an airplane’s various gear. Engine noises blared in lieu of Wagner. The experimental passengers came away from the experience unnerved and disoriented yet impressed by its beauty.

And which group was behind this onslaught of sensory and gustatory sensations? The Futurists, of course:

The Futurists wanted their cuisine to discombobulate. They imagined the Tavern of the Holy Palate not as “a simple, ordinary restaurant,” as Futurist luminary F.T. Marinetti writes, but as “an arts centre holding competitions and organizing Futurist poetry evenings, art exhibitions and fashion shows instead of the usual post-prandial coffee evenings or dances.” They designed their eatery to disorder the senses, to unmoor the eater from his everyday habits. All of this discombobulating, disordering, and unmooring they believed advanced a risorgimento, a wholesale remaking of Italian thought and culture.

Has there ever been such an Italian shift to a movement? Because really, what does food have to do with Futurism, other than the fact that no good Italian movement can survive without good Italians, and no good Italians can survive for long without good food. Here’s their attempt to justify it:

Despite their zeal for industry, machines, and automation, Futurists considered food one of the more effective weapons in the fight against tradition. Because it engaged the body immediately, it presented the fastest way of transforming the mind. And a mind transformed by modern food, the logic went, was a mind sympathetic to a modernizing agenda.

This is comical, and I wish I could laugh. Unfortunately, the Futurists are (as usual) one of the most misguided groups ever. They remind me of young boys eager to play war, not realizing they’re in way over their heads:

Soldiers about to get “into a lorry to enter the line of fire” or go “up in an airplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights” may wish first to enjoy a “Heroic Winter Dinner” consisting of three fairly involved dishes. First comes “Drum Roll of Colonial Fish,” a mess of fish, bananas, and pineapples eaten to a snare’s accompaniment. Then comes “Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts,” a single cube of beef marinated in rum, cognac, and white vermouth, given an electric jolt, and plopped atop a bed of red pepper, black pepper, and snow. (The dish’s presentation was meant to suggest an aerial view of a winter battlefield’s trenches, corpses, and spilt blood.) Ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges offer a palate-cleansing interlude before the meal’s finale. Dubbed “Throat Explosion,” it consists of “a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.” Immediately upon eating this “solid liquid” even the most reluctant warriors  – or “meat to be butchered,” as the Futurists urged them to call themselves – felt courage enough “to rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.”

Ugh. Every time I read about the Futurists, it’s the same thing. I laugh. I shake my head at how ridiculous they are. I get caught up in their enthusiasm for about two seconds. Then I wind up wishing I could go back in time and try to shake them out of it.

You can read much more about the fascinating Futurists and their feasts in Christine Baumgarthuber’s piece in The New Inquiry.

Brightening Your Day With a Little Little My

You wake up. Grumble your way to work. Slug down some coffee. Read some horror show news about people cheating America.

It’s the end of March. There’s snow on the ground. Do you really want to blog about these stories?

Like this one?

Workers’ compensation insurance premium fraud is so commonplace that it costs the city’s construction industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year alone…

Or this?

The former owner of an Ohio oil and gas services contractor pled guilty in federal court Monday to ordering an employee to release thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste liquids down a stormwater drain and into the Mahoning River.

Or this?

The former president and owner of a Wisconsin-based cheese company has agreed to plead guilty to distributing thousands of pounds of contaminated cheese...

Tainted cheese from Monroe, Wisconsin – where by God the high school sports team is nicknamed the Cheesemakers! What are we coming to?

Ugh. Do…not…have…the…strength…

Your hand drags the mouse over to Brain Pickings. And…kapow! Instant mood swing!

Yes! Look at Little My! Look at Moomin! If you and/or the kids in your life haven’t read these books, you need to get started. I’ve read a half dozen or more aloud, often through tears of laughter.

And this is about one I haven’t read yet!

Popova has many more pictures, as well as a brief history of the inimitable Tove Jansson, who really should be better known.

Popova and Jansson. What a great combination. The pictures will make you smile. The commentary, as always, makes you think. This is better than espresso!

One more to get the day started…

Okay, two…


Terrible Poem Breakdown: “Two Geniuses”

The Terrible Poem Breakdown series analyzes poems that are just not making it. We do this with the best intentions but pull no punches. Previous entries in our series can be found at the bottom of each post.

As always, the only rules are that the poems cannot be intentionally bad and the poet must be completely willing to submit to the analysis. I’m not qualified to judge poems for their formal qualities or even their poetic merit. I offer only the opinion of a willing reader and honest opinion provider.

Here we go!

Two Geniuses

She said her man was Mozart, his partner Salieri
Wishful thinking
The truth was they both were
Paul was a genius of a different kind
John was smart enough to see it
Together they changed the world.

My best friend bet his car on the Rose Bowl
And the Badgers let him down.

Ask and ye shall receive! I pointed out my weak spot for Wisconsin and the Beatles, and what do you know, a poet came through with a double reference.

Bet his car on the Rose Bowl? Ha ha ha ha ha. I have best friends like this! Everyone should! Sure, they need some extra attention. If that best friend is anything like mine, they probably lost their job because they couldn’t drive to work. Then they come and sleep on your couch. They eat a lot of Culver’s. It’s just a phase! A seventeen-year phase. But hey, what are friends for?

The she in the poem has to be Yoko. I’ve written about this very statement before, in The Race: A Novella. I suspect the poet may have noticed this by purchasing a copy for the low price of $2.99, then writing a poem designed to get into the Terrible Poem Breakdown series.

Am I upset at the manipulation of the process? Au contraire! I’m flattered!!!

So far no criticism. Okay, here we go. Minimal importance. Should the two geniuses be “four geniuses”? Or no: what if it was “three geniuses”? Wouldn’t that be a better title? Or maybe “Genius and Me”?

Okay, not sure those are improvements. But improving the poem is not my job! Poets should be entering flawless poems!

As always, my thanks etc. to the poet (the sneaky little devil) who agreed to submit to the critical lens. Scrutiny continues! Next time I will be tougher, I promise!

Previous Terrible Poems We Have Broken Down:

Paperback Now Available! (And Bonus Minisode!)

Here we go! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback of The Promotion is now for sale at!  Kindle version is also available. Amazon’s currently running a sale on both The Race and The Promotion in honor of the new release.

And now…a special bonus episode of The Promotion. Enjoy!

Previously in The Promotion: Minisode #3: In Which The Narrator Refutes His Critics and Begins a Critical New Position

Today’s Excerpt: The Promotion Minisode #4: In Which the Narrator Meets the Deputies Who Will Make or Break His Fortune

Later that afternoon I met with the two assistant directors that Jennifer had scraped from the dregs of the firm’s partnership. The first was Martin Shvets, a transaction lawyer twenty years into his career but who had only been at our firm for a year or two. He was a tall, Slavic-looking man with longish brown hair and round, gold-framed glasses. Thin nose, permanent sneer.

He began our meeting by informing me that Jennifer had offered him the directorship—my position—and that he had “of course” refused to accept. Too much thankless work, he said, and no extra pay, not even a bonus. And dealing with all those résumés, all those law school morons who think they’re smart enough to work at our firm but who know nothing at all.

Nothing at all,” he repeated, as if he were accusing me of something. “Less than nothing. Worse than nothing.”

I offered a feeble shrug in return.

“Only a jackass would take that job,” he said, staring at me with contempt.

He had a manner of speaking in which his lips were always on the verge of curling with disgust, not exactly a smile but not exactly not a smile.

He had another characteristic I soon learned firsthand: whenever he shook hands with you, he stepped on your foot and made eye contact in an aggressive way. It was never clear if he’d done so on purpose or if he was merely clumsy, but this didn’t matter. Either way his response was the same. He hurt you. He defied you to do something about it. No one ever did.

Now, in his office, I mumbled something about looking forward to working with him and made my exit. Fight or flight, and the jackass chose flight. Not so much from fear but exhaustion. Let Martin go back to his stupid little desk with his stupid little phone calls and the rest of his stupid little world. I was on a high and did not want to let him drag me down.

The other assistant director, Linn, was famous in the office and even beyond, in a certain sense. Linn was the twin sister of a Swedish model who had been married to one of the most famous people in the world before a spectacular scandal had made his wife—and her twin sister—an internationally recognizable face. And just like her sister, Linn was tall and blonde and striking, a Nordic queen whose beauty stopped conversations cold. I had really only seen her a few times in the elevator and hallways—a vivid experience each time—and I could hardly believe we were working together.

She squinted as I introduced myself. Her eyes became little blue hyphens. Everything about her was adorable and perfect.

“We should take a coffee,” she said. “Do you like espresso?”

“Love it,” I heard myself shout.

We went to a nearby chain that was technically from Minnesota but had a Scandinavian feel. Although this was late August and D.C. was insufferably hot and humid, the coffee house had the air conditioning on full blast. With the wooden floors and tables and a silent fireplace cozying up the place, I felt as if I was watching her in her native habitat. Fresh off the slopes, enjoying a pick-me-up in the lodge before heading to the sauna.

My heart was pounding.

Next: In Which the Narrator Hears the Name That Will Forever Alter His Future

Can’t wait to read the whole thing? A full version of The Promotion is available on in paperback and Kindle versions.

Small Press Shout-Out: The New Press!

One of the most gratifying aspects of giving small presses a shout-out is that so many of them have a strong sense of purpose. Whether it’s becoming a B Corporation, or providing us with passports to international crime fiction, or building a community around works about identity, or helping to put more Asian and Pacific Island diaspora literature on the shelves, or simply reminding us of the beauty of handmade books, small presses bring us a step closer to the dream bookstore.

Okay, so maybe America today isn’t exactly the Soviet Union of the samizdat era, but it’s true that new or unusual voices aren’t always heard above the cacophony of popular or mainstream culture. Enter the small presses, to add a few grace notes to the monolithic drone.

Today’s shout-out recipient is no exception.

The New Press “publishes books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world.”

And just what are these vital issues?

I’m going to let their website’s topic list speak for itself:

  • African American
  • Arts/Culture/Film
  • Asian American
  • Criminal Justice/Law
  • Current Affairs
  • Ecology/Health
  • Economics/Globalization
  • Education
  • Fiction/Literature
  • For Parents
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • K-12
  • Labor Studies
  • Latin America
  • Media/Journalism
  • Middle East
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Sociology
  • U.S. History
  • World History/WWII

Awesome. They publish Pete Seeger! They expand on their mission statement on their website:

Underlying The Press’s editorial program are three aims: to broaden the audience for serious intellectual work, especially by reaching out to audiences intellectually red-lined by commercial publishers; to bring out the work of traditionally underrepresented voices; and to address the problems of a society in transition, highlighting attempts at reform and innovation in a wide range of fields.

Intellectually red-lined! What a great phrase. I’ve never felt so excluded and immediately included at the same time.

This is the kind of press that traffics heavily in subtitles, which I’ve highlighted here:

The New Press has been around since 1990 and brings out around 50 titles per year. And while many of our small-press shout outs have been remarkable for the beauty of their website, the New Press’s site is all business. I would even characterize it as “workmanlike,” which I hope they take as a compliment. They’re not messing around at the New Press. They’re too busy delivering useful information.

You can check out their Spring 2014 Collection, including works by Alice Walker and Eric Hobsbawm, here. It also appears as if they recently lost someone close to them, founding editor André Schiffrin, who led an amazing literary life before passing away last December. A good time to send the Press some well wishes by browsing their titles and picking up a book or two.

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or my latest e-book, The Promotion! And do give Little Pickle Press (our B Corp shout-out) a little love as well!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs: