...about formatting for Smashwords.

When you’re a bright and shiny new author with a sparkly story to share, the question is: how are you gonna make it available to likely readers?

The answer used to be: write a query letter. No...write tons of query letters and drop them in the mail. Wait for the rejection slips to pour in. Rinse. Repeat. And some “experts” say you have to continue this process indefinitely. Bleh.

The prospect of that uphill slog discouraged me when I was at the bottom of the hill looking up. Until I found new ways to share my story.

One of them was Smashwords. It amazed me that I could format my manuscript by Smashwords’ guidelines, upload the file, and it would be available to the whole wide world as an ebook within the hour. WOW!

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to computers, text manipulation, or any one of a myriad of other abilities. But I was able to format my story, using the instructions I found in Mark Coker’s Style Guide (which is a free download from the Smashwords site). If I can do it, anyone can do it.

The main thing to remember in this process is: when in doubt, follow the guide.

But here’s a brief idea of how I set up a manuscript for uploading to Smashwords.

First, before I do anything else, I make a copy of the document to work from, then put the original in a safe place, and I don’t touch it. I work from the copy.

And let me mention this: before I even get so far as formatting my manuscript for Smashwords, I do one thing while typing my manuscript that simplifies my life: I never ever use the tab key to indent text. Nor do I use the space bar. I use the Paragraph > Format feature of Word to set indents. But if you’ve used the tab key, remove the tabs from your document using Search and Replace. Same thing goes for space bar indents.

Now, to get started with the formatting, I strip the undisplayed control characters within the text of a document (just because you can’t see them, don’t think they aren’t there. They are there, biding their time, waiting to make hash of your manuscript when it is converted into an ebook. So I remove them as a first step).

I copy the entire text of the document (Select All, Copy), then paste the text into Notepad (Notepad is a nifty little program you can find in your Accessories folder). That strips the embedded word processor control characters from it (except for tabs. They have to be removed manually or with Search and Replace, as I already mentioned).

Close the Word document. Open a new Word document, copy the text from Notepad and paste it into the new Word document.

At this point, you may be thinking your document looks pitiful...no indents and your italicized words are plain jane now. Not to worry. Notepad stripped out the control characters that told Word about the indents and other formatting niceties. We’re going to put them back manually. Here’s how:

1. Highlight all the text using Select All.

2. Go to the Paragraph > Format menu. Click the ‘Special’ drop menu on the right and select ‘First Line.’ A box will appear with the number .5 in it. You can leave the indent set at that amount or you can change it (I usually set my indents to .3).

3. Start at the top of the document and manually re-center chapter headings and any other text that has to be centered. Note: be sure to go into Paragraph > Format and change First Line to None for any text you want to center.

4. Start at the beginning and manually add any italics or bold attributes that Notepad stripped from your text.

5. At the beginning of the document, make a title page, following the Style Guide’s instructions. Include the title, name of author, copyright notice, the Smashwords license notes and any disclaimers (I also include the license notes at the end of the book). I always include attribution and copyright notices for the images used on my covers. I also put other information at the end of the book, like, my website address, contact information and a list of my other books.

And that’s it. I’m ready to upload.

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

...about sneak previews.

Sneak previews can be fun sometimes, but I had to remove the snippet of The Sands of Santa Rosa for the time being. You can still read samples of it on Amazon.com. I've enrolled it in the KDP Select program on Amazon...so be watching for the days it will be free!

The Sands of Santa Rosa

Five-year-old Sara Sands loves to play on a beach in the Florida panhandle.

But when an oil platform blows up in the Gulf of Mexico and creates a spill, an oil company executive makes a self-serving decision and puts her in danger.

And Cotton Chastain’s gift of seeing into the future may be the only thing that can save little Sara.

...about The Sands of Santa Rosa.

I’m about half-way through what I hope will be the final edit of The Sands of Santa Rosa. And I decided to do something I’ve not done before: give folks a glimmer into how one of my stories came to be. (That’s assuming, of course, that anyone has any interest in knowing.)

Last year when I attended the Pierre Chastain Family Association Reunion in Dalton, Georgia (my hometown), several of my Chastain relatives I met there asked why none of my books featured a Chastain character. I decided that the main character of my next novel would be a Chastain.

And in October, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico being a main topic of conversation here on the Gulf Coast, a cousin’s husband off-handedly said I should write a novel about an oil spill.

Ok, I thought. I’ll do that.

NaNoWriMo was looming, and I already had a character (Tilmon Lamont “Cotton” Chastain) and a setting/situation (oil spill in the Gulf). Now I needed a title.

Folks around here have told me they like reading the stories that are set in our local area, and On Berryhill Road is my best seller at festivals and book signings. So, I wanted a title that would anchor the story here. Since Santa Rosa Island is our barrier island fronting the Gulf, I thought it would be nice to use “Santa Rosa” as part of the title, and since the beach sands are impacted by things like oil spills, the title became The Sands of Santa Rosa.

All cut and dried and ready to go, right? Um, not so fast.

As usually happens when I write, what happens in my stories surprises me more than my readers. And this story was no exception.

I had a character, I had a setting/situation, and I had a title that I THOUGHT I knew the meaning of. But I was wrong.

As I wrote a scene where I followed Cotton Chastain onto the Santa Rosa Island beach at Navarre, suddenly, out of nowhere, a little girl popped up and said to him, “What you doing, mister?”

The little girl’s name? Sara Sands.