Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Publishing Paperbacks with Draft2Digital

A couple of years ago, I put together a collection of my fantasy short stories. Part of the reason for this was to make these stories available in paper (some of them had appeared in paper anthologies, but others hadn't.) I tried formatting the paperback version myself through KDP, but I had trouble with the cover. (To be honest, I made the front cover for this collection myself with a purchased stock photo, but I don't have enough skill to make a complete paperback cover.) So I put that project on hold until recently, when Draft2Digital (D2D) opened up their print process for all authors.

If you have a manuscript and a cover, you can convert them into a paper book through a series of guided steps. You start by uploading the manuscript and entering basic details about the book (title, contributors, blurb, and others.) You also need to assign an ISBN at this stage. I used one of my own, but D2D provides free ones if you need them. 

The second step is editing the interior of your book. This includes selecting the paper color and size. D2D offers a variety of genre-themed templates and will allow you to edit page numbers, headers, and other elements. Unfortunately, the Table of Contents I had prepared didn't show up properly through the D2D editor. D2D can add a Table of Contents, but it appears as the first page of the book, which isn't traditional. I ultimately solved the problem by uploading a PDF file instead of a Word document. (I use a template I purchased from BookDesignTemplates for both eBooks and paperbacks; I wonder if that affects formatting D2D can do.)

One you're done with the interior, it's time to work on the cover. Since I didn't have a full cover, D2D paired my eBook cover with a black back cover and spine. I was able to change the color (though it took several tries to match the front). I also had to change the text entered on the spine, but I was also able to upload my publishing logo. The text on the back was the hardest part. D2D automatically uploaded my blurb, author photo, and bio, but the text size for the blurb was too small to be legible. It took some experimentation to make it bigger. I had to shorten my biography to make it fit.

Once I finally finished formatting everything, I decided to order a physical proof to confirm the book looked the way I wanted it to. Ordering a physical proof is $30, but I figured it was worth it since this was the first time I'd used D2D for this. Perhaps when I'm more comfortable with it, I'll stick with free online proofs. I just received the proof (pictured above) on Monday, so I approved the book. Now I have to see how long it takes to be available online. I think the paperbacks will be available on Amazon as well as D2D's other sites, but it may take a few weeks before distribution is complete. I can order author copies in the meantime.

Publishing paper books is a tricky process, but it's worth it to have another, physical format for my works. Hopefully I'll publish The Season Between and Restaurants and Revenge later this year. I'll have full covers designed for them, which will make the publishing process simpler. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions about the process, and I'll answer them the best I can.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Game of Chaos: Excerpt

 Happy Spring! Since Monday was the spring equinox, I thought I'd celebrate by posting an excerpt from a short story featuring Gwen, the Goddess of Spring's Avatar. I wrote this story for an anthology about games, but it was rejected. I'm debating whether or not to add it to my upcoming short story collection The Season Between. (This collection is meant to include one short story featuring each of the Season Avatars, and Gwen is already represented by another story.) Perhaps if I ever write for Substack or do more with my newsletter, I can save this story as a reward for certain subscribers. Anyway, here's the first scene:

Dame H’even, the One Oak’s head housekeeper, was never late for her morning meeting in Gwen’s study. Gwen had already refilled her fountain pens, reviewed the notes from yesterday’s healing session, and checked the wind-up clock on the mantel more times than she wanted to admit, all while keeping her queasy stomach from rebelling. To make matters worse, no one had brought up a breakfast tray for her. She couldn’t heal anyone without food to fuel her magic, especially in her condition. Gwen tugged the bellpull. The clock ticked off several minutes, but no one responded.

“By All Four Gods and Goddesses, something’s wrong,” she muttered. The servants at the One Oak took great pride in serving the Four’s Avatars. If none of them were available, some dire emergency must be threatening everyone. Gwen glanced around her study, wishing she had a fighting staff from the Temple to defend herself. She could use her magic to stun or injure an enemy, but she had to get close enough to touch them first.

Empty-handed, she ventured into the hallway. No one was visible in either direction, but her keen ears picked up voices from the servants’ quarters on the floor above. Although she seldom ventured to the third floor, she knew where the stairs were. They were plain and narrow, unlike the stairs in the rest of the house, and her steps echoed on the scuffed wood. As she reached the top, the voices became clearer. Several women, including the housekeeper and Daisy, Gwen’s personal maid.

“Freeze it, Dame H’even, why’d you take that card?”

“Language, Dama!”

“I have a quartet!”

Gwen raised her eyebrow. That didn’t sound like people in distress.

She knocked a couple times on the housekeeper’s door before swinging it open. Four women in the One Oak’s livery were crowded around a tiny table, each holding a fan of cards. They didn’t look up as Gwen entered the room but continued picking cards from each other’s hands.

“Dame H’even? We have things to discuss before I head into Midpoint this afternoon.”

The housekeeper laid a quartet of cards on the crowded table. Daisy stared at it. “Are you sure you’re not hiding the Chaos card, Dame H’even?”

Gwen’s stomach threatened to rebel. She forced the nausea down but felt so weak she had to lean against the doorway. “Daisy, why didn’t you come when I summoned you? And whatever happened to breakfast?”

The four women continued drawing cards. Even the maid facing the doorway seemed oblivious to Gwen’s presence. They couldn’t have gone deaf, as they were speaking to each other, but they acted as if nothing outside of the game mattered.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Sweet in Tooth and Claw

If you're interested in solarpunk or hopepunk, you might be interested in reading Kristin Ohlson's Sweet in Tooth and Claw: Stories of Generosity and Cooperation in the Natural World. We're so used to hearing Tennyson's line about Nature being read in tooth and claw that it's easy to forget how important cooperation is to life. After all, multicellular life wouldn't be possible without a permanent merger between archaea cells and primitive bacteria to form eukaryotic cells with mitochondria and chloroplasts. Ohlson describes this famous symbiosis, but she also describes other types of interactions.

Many stories of cooperation deal with cooperation between plants, such as trees in a forest sharing resources underground and sending out pest alerts when they're attacked. There are also plenty of other interactions between plants and animals, where birds or insects might pollinate plants in exchange for food. However, this cooperation extends into the microscopic world as well. For example, some of the bacteria that live in our bodies help prevent pathogenic bacteria from settling in. Bacteria help some plants fix nitrogen in the soil. Species can also interact by spreading nutrients throughout the ecosystem. When salmon swim upriver to spawn, many of them are eaten by carnivores that disperse the leftovers across the land, fertilizing it. 

Cooperation is also important in agriculture. Instead of planting monocultures of crops, planting various types of plants together can reduce pest naturally, keep the temperature of the soil lower by covering it from the sun, and increase the overall yield. This also improves biodiversity, which is important because species don't just interact in pairs, but as part of an entire symphony. 

Perhaps the greatest tale of cooperation would be for humans to simply provide more space for all the other species on this planet. This can be done by making our cities greener, which would provide more habitats for animals. While it might be disconcerting at first to see coyotes in your area (there are some in our neighborhood), they play a role in keeping other populations in check. Other creatures like beavers can actually do a better job of managing water runoff and pollution than we do. Humans have a need to be connected with nature. By acknowledging this, we can improve our physical and mental health while also making our planet more livable.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Dinner on Mars

If you're interested in worldbuilding for science fiction, then you know food is an important part of that. How a society produces and prepares food has a big impact on many other parts of their culture. And as Lenore Newman and Evan D.G. Fraser point out in their book Dinner on Mars: The Technologies That Will Feed the Red Planet and Transform Agriculture on Earth, thinking about food production in extreme environments can in turn change how we handle food on this planet.

This book was inspired by Zoom chats between the authors during the Covid lockdown, and they refer to that often in the text. However, the "meat" of the book is a thought experiment of how to feed the first colonists on Mars. The authors discuss what's possible--obtaining nutrients from the soil on Mars--and what isn't feasible--transporting animals or growing grains on the red planet. Given the challenges of living on a planet with little water, a thin atmosphere, and reduced sunlight intensity, future Martian colonists will have to be ingenious at maximizing their resources. They would have to rely on blue-green algae, yeast, and microbes to produce the building blocks of food, at least initially. Special arrangements would have to be made to grow plants on Mars (the plants would also produce oxygen and help us maintain a link with nature). The plants might have to be genetically engineered to be more efficient, and they could grown by robots that deliver the exact amount of fertilizer needed. Protein could be printed or grown in a lab, and cheese could be developed from yeast extracts. The authors optimistically end by imagining the types of meals Martian colonists would eat--protein bars for breakfast, salad and printed meat for lunch and dinner, with the occasional treat of something made from potatoes and maybe even a distilled beverage. They describe this as a much healthier diet than what we currently eat and point out that we need those technologies here and now to change our food supply. However, getting these technologies to the small farms around the world may be as challenging as developing them.

Newman and Fraser write in an engaging style that make this book accessible to general readers. If I have to find a fault with their thought experiment, I think that they dismiss carbs too easily. Rice, corn, and pasta are staples in many cultures, and I doubt the first waves of colonists will want to do without them, even if these foods aren't optimally nutritious. If it's impractical to grow vast fields of wheat or rice paddies on Mars, then people will find other ways to create carbs. Perhaps yeasts will be used to churn out simple sugars that can be printed into starches and flours. Or perhaps plants with starchy roots can be modified to be more grain-like. I think the challenge of recreating specific dishes in space or another extreme environment might make for an interesting solarpunk story. 

If you were going to colonize another planet, what kind of food would you want to bring with you and why? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

IWSG: Author Envy

The year marches on to the month of March, so it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Learn more about the IWSG on their website or Facebook page.

Our hosts this month are Diedre Knight, Tonja Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and J.Q. Rose. (Unfortunately, I don't have working links for Bish and Olga.)

Here's our question for March: Have you ever read a line in [a] novel or a clever plot twist that caused you to have writer envy?

It's hard for me to pick a specific example of something that caused me to have writer envy. The best thing I can come up with is Patricia McKillip's writing style, but that's the poetic nature of her prose and not limited to a single line. However, while I enjoy reading her work, her style is so different from mine that there's no point to envying it. It's something I can admire without being able to imitate. Even if I could write like her, her style might not fit the stories I want to tell.

In general, I think if you're struggling with your current work, it's easy to be envious of anything else you read because you see the finished work, not the other author's process in bringing the story to life. Comparing a draft to a finished work isn't fair, but we do it all the time. 

Do you have a particular author or story you're envious of? Feel free to share in the comments.

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