Interview with Linda Nagata

Last week, I mentioned that I was unsure of what my next project would be. After thinking about all my options, I decided to finish Dragonverse Origins. I was nearly 75% complete when I set it aside to work on re-editing and reformatting my already published works. Although I've had several requests to write another Galactic Alliance book, I don't have a complete enough plot laid out to feel comfortable starting another book in that series. So, I started from the beginning of Origins and I've been re-reading, editing, and altering that story. I hope to have it finished in a few months. Once that's done, then I will work on another Peacekeeper.

For anyone out there who has purchased a new computer with a super-high resolution display -- be advised that Scrivener will not display properly unless you make a few changes to your system. If you have this problem, I've included the fix at the end of this post.

I also have a tip for anyone using Createspace for their print books. The files are reviewed by a live person and some of the people doing these reviews have a very strict stance on Createspace's rules. When I first published the Galactic Alliance books, I entered the name of the books in Createspace as "Galactic Alliance book x - Title". This was before I really understood what I was doing. When I uploaded the newly formatted interior for Chroniech, I put the name on the title page as "Chroniech". I received a reply from Createspace telling me the interior cover does not match what I named the book in the dashboard. True, it wasn't exact, but it was clear they were one and the same. My solution was to upload the exact same interior again and resubmit. This time, it was accepted.

Linda Nagata
The topic of this week's post is a short interview with Linda Nagata. Because it was the holiday season and I know Linda is a very busy person, I kept the questions to a minimum and focused on self-publishing.

I first met Linda Nagata in 2012 while attending Launch Pad, an intense one-week course on astronomy and astronomical science held yearly in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Ever since then, I’ve stayed in touch with her via Twitter and email. I was pleased to spend some time with her earlier this year at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) which was held in Spokane, Washington. I had the honor of sharing my first-ever panel with her during that convention.

I decided to interview Linda for my blog because she has managed to gracefully straddle the line between being traditionally published and self-published. She began her writing career as a traditionally published author. After a long break, she decided to publish her back-stories as well as her new ones as a self-published author. Her novel The Red – First Light is the first self-published novel to be nominated for the Nebula award as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial award. Following the nomination, she was contacted by her old agent and successfully negotiated a contract for the entire Red trilogy (The Red, The Trials, and Going Dark) with Saga Press.

She currently lives on the island of Maui. For more information concerning Linda, please visit her website. The following interview was conducted via email.


You were a traditionally published author, what made you decide to self-publish your next major novel when you began writing again?

I had lots of reasons to self-publish The Red. First, I’d already self-published other novels, most recently, two fantasy novels--the Puzzle Land books—and I enjoyed all phases of the process. I loved the control self-publishing gave me. Being responsible for every aspect of a book means you have no one else to blame when things go wrong, but it also means you’re in a position to correct mistakes when they happen. And they do happen, in both self and traditional publishing.

Another great perk of self-publishing was that I didn’t have to wait on anyone else’s schedule—and schedule was important to me. It had been ten years since my last major science fiction novel, and I didn’t want to wait another year, more likely two, to see The Red in print.

So impatience was one factor in my decision, but there were others. I’d been listening to grumblings out of the traditional field and I kept hearing that typical advances were terribly low, and that publishers were supposedly hesitant to publish science fiction by women. The Red is high-tech, military, hard science fiction, by me...a woman, writing under a woman’s name, with no military background. I thought I could probably sell it, but I couldn’t see it snagging a big advance, and I wasn’t willing to take a small one. So I figured, “Why waste time waiting on an offer that I’ll turn down anyway?” And I published it myself.

If “The Red – First Light” had not been nominated for a Nebula award, do you think you would still be totally self-published?

If we’re talking only about novels, then yes. I think most readers don’t pay a lot of attention to award nominations, but agents and editors do. And the Nebula nomination gave The Red enough credibility that editors were interested, and my agent was able to get me a good offer on the trilogy in just a few weeks. If I hadn’t gotten that offer, I would have self-published the other two books in the trilogy. I was literally a week away from releasing the second book when I was asked to hold off, pending the outcome of the auction.

But novels are only part of the market. Then, and now, my short fiction continues to be traditionally published. And looking ahead? I’ll probably be self-publishing a collection of recent short fiction sometime in 2016.

You managed to negotiate what is, in my mind, a unique and rare contract with Saga Press. With the signing of the contract, you are now officially both traditionally published and self-published because you’ve managed to retain the UK rights to the Red series. In your opinion, do you think these types of contracts will become more common or did your past influence the type of contract you were able to negotiate?

Well, first, I didn’t negotiate the contract. That was my agent, Howard Morhaim—and he’s done a terrific job. But historically, it was very common to retain UK rights when selling to an American publisher. Every traditional contract I ever had did just that. These days I think it’s increasingly common to sell world rights, but I don’t think that retaining UK rights is unusual. At any rate, we shopped the trilogy among UK publishers, but the offers were disappointing. So I decided to publish on my own in the UK market. Having the option to do that is simply revolutionary. But will the practice become more common? I don’t know. It’s certainly easier to sell world rights and not to have the worry of putting the book out on your own in a limited market, but for me, it’s been utterly worthwhile to do so.

There are pros and cons to both traditional publication and self-publication. Having experienced both sides of the publishing industry, do you have any advice for an author who is on the fence as to how to publish their first novel?

I try to refrain from giving advice like that. Everyone is going to have to find their own path, and the question itself isn’t really fair, because it assumes you have a choice. A better question might be: Can you sell your first novel to a traditional publisher? The cold hard truth is that, for most of us, the answer is “no.” But even if you believe you can, do you want to? And if you do want to, how much time and effort and angst are you willing to invest in the process of seeking an offer? And if you do get an offer, what is the minimum you will agree to? (Not just the advance, but the other terms as well.)

Some writers will do very, very well going traditional. Others will have their hearts broken by the process, and will never have a good thing to say about the traditional market. So the only advice I will give is to make sure you know your options, seek current evaluations of self versus traditional because the industry changes all the time, understand your contracts, and never sell yourself short.


Here is the email I received from Scrivener support containing the steps necessary to get Scrivener to display properly on my Microsoft Surface Book: 

Unfortunately, Scrivener for Windows is not yet optimised for high-resolution displays, although this is something that we hope to address in a future major upgrade. I'm afraid we can't be more specific about the timescale for this, other than to say that the developers are working on it. I believe that the problem stems from the way in which Microsoft has implemented scaling in Windows for high-resolution displays, which requires applications to be rewritten extensively at a low level in the code to accommodate the mechanism used.

In the meantime, please refer to the following article for advice on a workaround: <https://scrivener.tenderapp.com/help/kb/windows-troubleshooting/scaling-on-hidpi-displays>.


Happy Holidays!

All of the books in the Galactic Alliance series have been reformatted and are going to be uploaded to Amazon this morning. Translight and Chroniech also received an editing pass to fix problems from my earlier writing. This has been a long project and it is not quite complete. I am waiting on a new cover for Peacekeeper 2. The Kindle version of the PK2 is ready for upload, but the Createspace version will have to wait until the new cover art arrives.

This entire re-editing/reformatting project was the result of how I felt about being a writer after attending WorldCon earlier this year. My novels are a part of how I am perceived as a writer. Unprofessionally formatted novels indicate that the writer is not completely serious about what is presented to the public. When I first began publishing novels, I didn't know anything about formatting and my writing skills were undeveloped. Those skills continue to evolve and my knowledge of proper formatting has grown considerably. It is only right that I go back and fix my earlier books.

But, the itch to get back to writing has been scratched until it is raw and now that I'm bleeding all over the floor I need to get back to writing. My re-editing/reformatting project is not complete, but my other books can be done as time permits. I must return to writing. I am not abandoning the project -- I will continue to work on the remaining books in between getting some writing done.

My problem now is -- what shall I work on? I recently received another very positive response from a reader of the Galactic Alliance series. As with most of these types of unsolicited feedback, I've been asked if I plan on writing another book in the series. I now have many requests to produce another GA book and no requests to add to the Dragonverse series. I've spent about 7 months working on Dragonverse Origins and the book is about 75% complete. Do I set aside all that work to start another Galactic Alliance book? This is not an easy decision to make!

I am a big fan of dragons and I love the Dragonverse universe. Origins will provide a link to one of my stand-alone science fiction novels (Off Course) linking it into the Dragonverse. This will create a science fiction based fantasy series with an opportunity to add many more books. On the other hand, my Galactic Alliance series is my best seller. If I set Origins aside and start a third Peacekeeper, it's going to be at least 8 months before I put out another book. That will make it around 2 years from my last release. In my mind, that's too long because readers will move on and my name will fade from their minds. What to do?

I haven't made a final decision yet, but I will have to do so by Christmas Eve. That's when I plan on starting writing again. I will let you know when I post my next blog.

I have come up blank with anything new to discuss on the self-publishing topic. This is probably due to my focusing on the re-editing/reformatting project as well as the busy time around the holiday season. If I come up with something by next week, I'll put it in the post -- but don't count on it! Next week is Christmas and things get crazy around here this time of year.

I hope everyone will enjoy themselves during the holiday season.


Self-Publishing: Formatting Step-By-Step

Honor Thy Enemy (Galactic Alliance book 3) and Peacekeeper (book 4) are ready for upload. I've been working so hard at getting the books ready for upload that I haven't actually uploaded the latest versions yet. Starting with Peacekeeper, all of the other books will be formatted without any re-editing. These later books have been proofed by my wife and I believe they are in good enough shape to remain as they are. With four books behind me, the rest should move along rather quickly and then I will be able to get back to writing. The itch has become very strong.

I'm also happy to announce that I've been invited to speak at the February 6th meeting of NEORWA (North East Ohio chapter of the Romance Writers of America) in Kirtland, Ohio. I know exactly what you're next question is and it is the same one I asked when I got the phone call. Why would a science fiction writer be invited to speak at a romance writer's meeting? It turns out that romance writers are interested in world-building. I'm also a self-published author and I'm sure their members are interested in hearing about how I've done as well as I have. I'm looking forward to this opportunity.

Step-By-Step Formatting
I thought I would share the details of what I've been doing the past few weeks and what I've learned. I use Scrivener to produce my first draft and then I transfer it over to Word for the final work. Word's default font and settings puts the entire manuscript in Times New Roman font with the style set to Normal. I'm not going to rehash what I wrote about in my post about formatting. If you haven't read it, you can do so here.

First things first - make a backup copy. I start with the Kindle version first because it can be easily used to build the Createspace version. I name the copy something like "Peacekeeper (Kindle).docx". The first thing I do is to remove all of the standard styles from the style gallery. I then import my specially created styles and then add them to the style gallery toolbar at the top of Word. I also turn on the feature to display formatting marks. This sets the stage for the rest of the formatting.

If you want a baseline to begin with, you can type CTRL+A to select the entire document and then change everything to the style you've created for the main text. This might have unwanted side effects such as removing italics etc. Since my formatting is already fairly close, I don't do this step anymore. Starting at the top of the manuscript, I highlight each group of paragraphs and then click on the appropriate style.

For Kindle, it is important to watch out for manually entered page breaks. These are ignored by the Kindle converter. Chapter headings use a style that instructs Word to insert a page break before the heading. I remove all manual page breaks as I work my way through the document. I pay particular attention to the first paragraph after a chapter heading or scene break, making sure I set that paragraph to the flush-left style. Scene breaks and the text just before a scene break also get their own styles.

I work my way through the document paragraph by paragraph, highlighting large sections where possible, and selecting the appropriate style. Make sure you periodically save your work! When I'm done, I'll take a short break to let my eyes (which by now feel like they're bugging out of my head) rest. I will then go back over the entire book using CTRL+Down-arrow to move down one paragraph at a time while keeping my eyes focused on the font indicator at the top of the application. Everything should be set to Georgia. If not, then I missed something and I make sure that missed piece is formatted correctly. To finalize the document, I make sure the header pages and ending pages are appropriate for the Kindle version (I use slightly different text for Kindle and print versions).

I then go over it one more time putting Word into multi-page view. This gives me a large view of entire pages allowing me to spot formatting errors. I double-check that all paragraphs after a chapter heading and scene break are flush left and I make sure my chapter numbers are correctly sequenced. After a final save, I convert the document to a "Web page (Filtered)" file. I do a final quick check to make sure the conversion didn't do anything strange and call the Kindle version complete.

To make the Createspace version, I make a copy of the Kindle version and name it something like "Peacekeeper (Createspace).docx". The first thing I do is to right-click all of the styles and change them to match the desired print formatting convention. I use Garamond font and also set the text to be justified with auto-hyphenation turned on and line spacing set to "at least 15 pt". I change the page size to match my printed version making sure to set the margins appropriately and turn on mirror margins. This should take care of the vast majority of the changes you need to make.

Next, I locate the start of the first chapter and insert a continuous section break at the end of the previous page. I pull up the header and footer editor and create the page headers and footers. I don't use footers but you might. I use different headers for odd/even pages because I want my page numbers to appear along the outside edge of the page. You must turn off the "like previous" setting and make sure you set your page numbering to start at page 1 on the page where chapter 1 begins.

Save these changes! Since all of the styles I use in Kindle are named the same as the styles I use in Createspace, modifying the style settings takes care of the majority of all reformatting. I put Word into the multi-page view setting and start flipping through pages. Chapters must start on a page on the left-side of the screen. If not, I must do one of two things: Insert a manual page break, or alter the line spacing to shorten the previous chapter. The choice depends on how many lines are on the last page of the previous chapter. If there are more than 4, I insert a page break. If the previous chapter is quite long, I can often move 5 or 6 lines up.

To move the lines, select several pages of text in the previous chapter making sure you don't cross a scene break, right-click and select paragraph. Make a small change in the "at least xx pt" setting. I typically don't drop the setting by more than 0.3 points. If you change it too much, the reader is going to notice. Scroll down to the bottom of the chapter and check the results. If the lines are not entirely on the previous page, hit CTRL+Z to reverse your changes. You can then highlight more or use a slightly larger change in line spacing. After doing this a few times you will get a feel of how Word behaves.

Once this is done, I go back over the entire book making sure I have not missed something. I look at page numbers and the formatting of the headers as well. One thing I missed and had to fix was a missing underline in the header of the even pages. I don't know why it didn't appear, but I had to fix it after an upload. Once I'm satisfied, I make sure the header pages and trailing pages are set for the print version.

The Createspace version is saved in PDF format using the ISO 19005-1 compliant or PDF/A formatting option. This is the type of PDF that Createspace prefers and if you don't use it you will receive a polite warning from them. I then load the PDF into Adobe, set it from side-by-side view, and look at each and every page to make sure the formatting is correct. Word does not always output a PDF in the exact same format as you see it in Word! If you find errors here, you'll have to make the change in Word and export it again.

Finally, I can build a new cover using Photoshop. I use the page count from the PDF to have Createspace build me a cover template. I use this template to make the final cover. I flatten the file and output as a PDF. One word of caution, if you use Photoshop do not flatten the master copy! If you do, you can no longer edit the elements. I made this mistake once - never again.

Using the finished cover, I display it as large as I can on my monitor then use a screen copy program such as the Snippet tool to grab just the front part of the cover. I use Photoshop to make the cover at least 1560 by 2500 pixels in size and save as a high-quality JPG. I write a blurb and then upload everything.

It's a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. But, it's what a professional writer would expect from a publisher and since you are your own publisher, it's what is expected of you. Take the time to format your books properly. Take the time to read up on how this is done. Read widely because there are differing opinions out there. Document your fonts, your settings, and your other formatting choices so your books remain consistent.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I'm not an expert, but I have learned a huge amount over the past few months and I'm always glad to help out.

Happy holidays!


Self-Publishing: Dedication

The re-editing of Honor Thy Enemy (book 3 of the Galactic Alliance series) is complete. Formatting for CreateSpace is also complete. I will be working on the new cover and the Kindle formatting today. If all goes well, the newly revised book will be uploaded on Monday. During my updating of HTE, I found a few issues that also appeared in the first two books I re-edited. I will be uploading these corrections as well.

I have also dropped the price of the remainder of my books as well as enrolled them in Amazon's KDP program. This is still an on-going experiment and I will let you know how this pans out.

Lessons in Formatting
Before I jump into the topic for this week, I thought I would share a few lessons I've learned during this long re-editing / reformatting project. The overall lesson I've learned is: Pay attention to detail. I was looking at the PDF of Honor Thy Enemy and I noticed that the odd pages had a line at the top while the even pages did not. After fixing this, I went back and looked at the first two books - Translight was okay, but Chroniech had the same problem. How did I miss that? I also found that I had forgotten to switch the font from Georgia to Garamond in one of my styles. This wasn't very obvious when editing in Word but it stuck out like a beacon in the PDF.

After you've done your formatting, export your novel to PDF and switch the display to show pages side-by-side. Don't read, just flip through the entire manuscript and run your eyes down each page. The formatting should appear smooth and consistent. Make sure you are following your formatting rules and look to see that each and every page is correct. If you need a refresher on formatting, take a look at my past post on formatting.

How long does it take you to read a book? Let's say you can read a 90,000 word novel in about a month. You read at home, during lunch at work, sitting on the pot, on the bus, wherever you can. That's a lot of time. Now think about how long it takes to write that novel. The initial draft might take a year, two years, or many more depending on the writer. But once the first draft is done, the editing begins. The writer now reads the entire novel again, making changes along the way. If she does what most writers suggest, the manuscript is set aside for a month to put some distance between the words and the writer. She will then go back and read it again and make more changes. This process is repeated several times. Often, another person reads the manuscript and provides feedback. The writer then reads the entire manuscript again and incorporates the changes. This entire process is repeated until the novel is done.

But wait - we aren't done yet! If you're a self-published author, now you must take the time to format your novel for distribution. Often, you will read the entire manuscript again while doing this. If you produce output for both Kindle and printed versions, you will have to at least scan the entire novel once for each output format.

Sounds like a lot of work - right? You bet! Since most writers also hold down a regular job, all this writing, editing, formatting, and revising is done when most people are out with friends, reading books, watching movies, etc. And, if you want to sell your book, none of these steps can be shortened. This takes a tremendous amount of dedication. How many readers ever consider what it takes to write a book? The next time you meet an author, thank them for their dedication and for the sacrifices they have made to put that book in your hands.

After attending WordCon earlier this year, I promised I would take the time to ensure that my currently published novels were as professionally formatted and edited as I could possibly make them. I set aside a novel I was working on and started my re-editing / reformatting project. There have been times when I wanted to set that project aside and get back to writing. But, I had dedicated myself to doing what I had promised. There is a price to pay for this.

Book royalties are based on a number of factors. To name a few: How many people spread the word; How many books an author has in print; And, how often an author puts out a new book. If you put out a book every year or two, people tend to remember you. If you take longer, your name and the name of the book they read by you will fade from memory. Sales of all my books increase when I release a new novel. I'm coming up on the one year point since I released my last book and I'm getting uncomfortable about not having one ready to release. Does that mean I'm going to abandon my project? NO!

The books I have in print right now are a reflection of who I am as a writer. If they appear unprofessional, then that's the opinion people will have of me no matter what I write in this blog. I will finish the project before I go back to writing. Dedication is not easy, but it's a way of life for a writer. If you want to be respected by your readers and other writers, you've got to have focused dedication to the art and craft of writing.