All posts by Jeremy Bursey

My Personal Profile: I'm a pretty normal guy with normal interests, which means I probably need to get out more. And, well, sometimes I do, and sometimes I write about what happens when I do go out. My blog is a reflection of me as a whole, not just one particular flavor. Sometimes this means writing about awesome things. Sometimes it means writing about heartbreaking things. Sometimes it means showing my best side. Sometimes it means showing the side that should probably be kept hidden. I'm an explorer at heart, and my writing will generally reflect that. However, if there's a category you particularly like, please let me know. I'm certainly willing to focus more on those subjects that have an audience. I'm also a fiction writer, which you can read more about in the next (third-person) paragraph. My Author Profile (as written in the back matter of my e-books): Jeremy Bursey is the author of many short stories, essays, and poems, along with a modest number of novels and screenplays, each covering topics and genres that differ from what he had written previously. He hopes to bring many of these into the ebook generation over the course of the next few years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Florida and currently works at a local college as a writing tutor. He appreciates feedback for anything he offers to the public.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 40: Discussing “Writing Voice” by Writer’s Digest)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 40

What is voice? No, I don’t mean that thing that comes out of your mouth when you talk (no, the other thing). I’m referring to that enigmatic “writer’s voice,” which is something that most people, writers included, can’t ever seem to define when asked.

The writer’s voice is a mysterious thing that every writer needs, but no instructor can teach.

The writer’s voice is a valuable thing that can make the difference between building a readership and building a revolving door of sampler readers.

What is voice?

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we cover Writing Voice, the Writer’s Digest compilation of articles and chapter excerpts that attempt to identify, demonstrate, and “teach” the writer’s voice. If this concept gets you in the throat, then be sure to watch my commentator video on everything the book offers that you may want.

Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers

From the Editors of Writer’s Digest

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback : 304 pages

·  ISBN-10 : 1440349126

·  ISBN-13 : 978-1440349126

·  Publisher : Writer’s Digest Books; Illustrated edition (March 1, 2017)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

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The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 39: Discussing “Writing Deep Scenes” by Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 39

So, you’re ready to write your magnum opus, but all of your ideas are rooted in stock images and cardboard cutouts. What are you to do? Well, it’s time to put some meat on those three-dimensional bones and dash in the mood music. It’s time to write “deep” scenes.

But what does that even mean? Thankfully, veteran authors Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer, not yet featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) and Jordan Rosenfeld (Making a Scene, also not yet featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) have teamed up in the excellent book Writing Deep Scenes (now featured on The Writer’s Bookshelf) to answer that question and a lot more (not literally that question, but the question that lives in that same camp). If you want to pump up your writing game and learn the techniques to develop your scenes into substantial works of art and functional conflicts (not settings, to be clear, but complete five-point dramatic scenes), then this book may be right for you. Learn more by watching this video.

Oh, and welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf, in case you’re not sure where you are at the moment.

Writing Deep Scenes: Plotting Your Story Through Action, Emotion, and Theme

by Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld

Website (Martha Alderson)

Website (Jordan Rosenfeld)

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback : 248 pages

·  ISBN-10 : 1599638835

·  ISBN-13 : 978-1599638836

·  Publisher : Writer’s Digest Books (October 2, 2015)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

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The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 38: Discussing “Mastering Plot Twists” by Jane K. Cleland)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 38

Once upon a time, a plot twist involved writing a scene that surprised the audience. Maybe the twist made sense. Maybe it came out of left field. But either way, it was unexpected, and the audience cheered. Unless the plot twist sucked. Then they booed.

Nowadays, audiences are more discerning in how they appreciate a plot twist. The fact that a plot twist can suck means that not all plot twists work. If they don’t align with the established rules of the story, they’ll suck. If they shock for shock’s sake, they’ll suck. If being told the story has a twist means the audience can now figure out the ending, it’ll suck.

You don’t want your story to suck.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we focus on Mastering Plot Twists by Jane K. Cleland. This short but dense book will show you how to craft plot twists that are both natural to the story and surprising yet inevitable, just as a plot twist should be. Find out more in this week’s video.

Mastering Plot Twists: How to Use Suspense, Targeted Storytelling Strategies, and Structure to Captivate Your Readers

by Jane K. Cleland

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback : 240 pages

·  ISBN-10 : 144035233X

·  ISBN-13 : 978-1440352331

·  Publisher : Writer’s Digest Books (June 26, 2018)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

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Introducing Frost Writer 4.0

Remember that one time you sat down at your writing desk, loaded up your writing app of choice, then scratched your head because you didn’t know what to type? Yeah, I know. Yesterday. What about the time before that? Yep, two days ago. Been there. How did you handle it? Went on social media? I get it. Walked the dog? Someone has to. Did your taxes (in August)? Okay, I think we have a problem here.

I don’t think the problem is writer’s block. I think the problem is with resistance. Writing is hard. It requires you to both imagine and think. That’s almost as bad as walking and chewing gum at the same time. No one’s that coordinated.

But what if you had the ability to write your story in an app that could minimize the need for imagination and thought by putting you in the zone? And by “zone,” I mean “mood.” What if you could trim out your distractions, put on mood-setting music that’s appropriate for your style, genre, or scene, and even set a writing canvas that resembles in some loose way the scene you want to paint?

The good news is that such an app exists. The better news is that I’ve already covered it once upon a time. But the best news is that such an app (we’ll call it Frost Writer, because that’s what the developer calls it) is getting an update today. That app, Frost 4.0, has just added new backgrounds, music, and features to make writing that story about dogs and cats living together fun again.

Frost Writer 4.0 “Baroque” theme, Paris background.

With Frost 4.0, there’s no need to complain about writer’s block. Just sit down, pick your favorite theme (which may include a new Parisian style theme called “Baroque” or a desert adventure theme called “Dunes” to name two of the latest additions), and get writing.

What are the limitations, besides your imagination? Well, it’s still primarily a drafting tool, not an editing or finalization tool. There’s still no special formatting in Frost 4.0. Need to italicize a word? Tough. Do it in post. Maybe you need to spell “café” with that accent? Not in Frost you don’t. Fortunately, when your writing session ends, you can export your text to a text file, then copy it into the formatter of your choice. Prefer Microsoft Word to Scrivener? Okay. Prefer Scrivener to Microsoft Word? Sure. You can export your work to either of them because it’s just a text file. No style. Just words.

Of course, you may be wondering why you should bother using an app that just lets you write unformatted text. Well, the short answer is that the inability to edit as you go means you can just get words written and not look back. But the better answer is that you can write distraction-free while also listening to appropriate music while also looking at appropriate backgrounds.

And now that those backgrounds are also dynamic? I mean, now you’ve got all you need to get that story started.

Note: If you have no idea what I mean by “dynamic backgrounds,” well, in practical terms, it means that the backgrounds “move.” In other words, you don’t have to stare at static images all day. If you want to write your holiday story with an active snowfall in the background, well now you can! With dynamic backgrounds, of course. Frost 4.0 has that feature, too.

Frost Writer 4.0 theme selection.

Overall, I think Frost 4.0 is worth your time. For one, it’s free. But also, it does what it promises. Distraction-free writing that puts you in the mood. What more do you really want in a free web-based writing app? I mean, besides the ability to do everything that the premium apps can do?

According to the developer, the new update will go live on August 26th. I don’t know what time, so you’ll have to keep checking the link until you can get in. But once you’re in, I think you’ll like the newest themes and the new site design. Plus, you’ll get to maneuver through the themes and soundtracks via hotkeys this time. Just hold Alt or Option (depending on whether you’re using Windows or Mac), then press “S” for a new background, “F” for full screen (great for distraction-free writing), “L” for Dark Mode, and left or right arrows for switching music. And if you need to cancel anything (like full screen), just hit ESC. It’s pretty straightforward. Bear in mind that the developer also recommends that you use Chrome or Safari for best results.

And if you’re wondering, the latest themes are:

  • Baroque
  • Lover
  • Dunes
  • Nightfall

So, that’s Frost Writer 4.0 in a nutshell. Have you used it yet? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below. You can also check out my hands-on preview in the following video.

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The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 37: Discussing “Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict” by Cheryl St.John)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 37

Imagine walking up to the front door of a two-story house. You’re dressed in your fanciest clothes, holding a corsage in hand, rehearsing the speech you’ve had in your head for weeks. You know tonight’s the night that everything will change. You just need everything to go according to plan. That’s the only thing you need. You take a breath, fold your fingers into your palm, rap your knuckles against the door.

And you wait. And you wait some more.

Time passes. Do you knock again? Or do you keep waiting?

You hear someone yelling from inside the house. Someone else yells back. The words are inaudible. You check your corsage. You rewind the day in your mind. It’s Friday, right? Tonight’s still the night. Right?

Maybe no one heard you. You reach for the doorbell. But even before your finger makes contact, you hear something crash. Maybe a vase. Maybe a plate. Do you press it?

Do you want to know what happens next?

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we cover the most important elements in all of storytelling: emotion, tension, and conflict. Without these ingredients, the story has no soul. Without these ingredients, the story has no readers. Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St.John is that one essential book that investigates these three elements with care, and it’s one I highly recommend you put on your shelf (and read) as soon as possible

You can check out my video about it while you’re here.

Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel

by Cheryl St.John

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1599637588

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599637587

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 11/27/13 edition (November 28, 2013)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

P.S. Rather than knock or ring the doorbell, you simply call your date and tell her you’re here. She asks where. You tell her the front porch. She says she doesn’t see you. You realize you went to the wrong house. She lives next door.

Notes: I picked this book for its representation of conflict, but it covers a little of everything, including emotion and tension, as references in the title, as well as characterization, naming characters, pacing, and so on. I want to make sure I mention the fact that this book references other books as a source of education (extending the life of The Writer’s Bookshelf) and presents one of the most useful story and character development sheets I’ve seen in recent times (simple but relevant) at the end of the book. I also want to reiterate that conflict is important, and I’d hoped to spend more time talking about it. Maybe in Season 3.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 36: Discussing “Crafting Dynamic Dialogue” by Writer’s Digest)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 36

Everyone knows that verbal communication is just as important as nonverbal communication when getting a message across. Telling someone to “Stop it!” carries the same emotional weight as shoving them away whenever they stick their finger in your ear. But is that response powerful enough to convince them to stop? Or do we need to escalate the tension with more character-affirming phrasing? “Do that again, and I’ll stick this up your nose!”

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Now that we’ve wrapped our sessions on location, location, location (which included a video on mapmaking software in case you missed my YouTube episode on “Mapmaking for Authors” last week), it’s time to move on to the all-important character and story development tool called dialogue.

This week, we cover another text compilation from the archives of Writer’s Digest Books, in a fun collection of chapters and essays called Crafting Dynamic Dialogue. If you struggle with putting words in your characters’ mouths, then this book will help you grab that clamp and shovel and drive those dialogues right where they belong.

Don’t forget to check out the video.

Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction

From the Editors of Writer’s Digest

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 304 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1440345546

·  ISBN-13: 978-1440345548

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (June 23, 2016)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

Notes: This is the cherry on top for character creation and development. Like Creating Characters, much of the content is curated from other sources, including books and magazine articles by Writer’s Digest.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 35: Discussing “The 99% Invisible City” by Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 35

When was the last time you walked down the street, saw a manhole cover, and thought to yourself, “Hmm, that’s interesting”? My guess is never, but that’s not the case for the writers of this week’s book of focus.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf.

The cities around us are full of history, not just through events, but also by the unusual decisions that have marked them as sources of influence. For example, did you know that once upon a time, a city planner had to figure out how to hide an unsightly water pump from the unfortunate people who walked past it daily? His solution: build the empty shell of a fancy building around it. The people will never know! What about the history of The Can Opener Bridge? Did you know it can’t be fixed in any meaningful way? If you’ve ever wanted to know the true story of this hilarious urban monster (if trucks and buses are the victims), then you’ve got a place to find it.

And these are just two examples of the neat tidbits we learn in this week’s book of focus, The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt, based on their blog and podcast, 99% Invisible.

Why are we even talking about this book in a series devoted to writing craft? Well, for two reasons. First, we’re discussing how to craft settings, and I think this book is a great reminder for how settings have histories and that your settings have histories. But we’re also using it as an excuse to talk about researching your story elements and making sure that what you write is accurate and necessary. So, we’re pulling double-duty on this one.

Plus, it’s just a great book, and I’m all about discussing great books. It’s why I’m planning to launch a sister series about books worth reading sometime quite soon. But I digress.

You can get the book at the link below, and be sure to watch my discussion about it in this week’s video. And if you have the time, check out the 99% Invisible blog and podcast. There’s so much interesting stuff to read and hear about that even the book doesn’t have enough room to cover.

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

By Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Hardcover: 400 pages

·  ISBN-10: 0358126606

·  ISBN-13: 978-0358126607

·  Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Illustrated edition (October 6, 2020)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

Series Note: We’re taking another short break next week to talk about mapmaking and setting orientation for your stories. The Writer’s Bookshelf will return on August 13th.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 34: Discussing “The Rural and Urban Setting Thesauruses” by Angela Ackerman & Bella Puglisi)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 34

Writing about a bar in the back of an industrial plant? How about a restaurant sitting on a pier over the Atlantic Ocean (around here, we call that Benny’s on the Beach)? What about that barn you think you slept in the night you passed out in Missouri (we don’t need to know why you passed out)? You know what they look like? Can you recall the smells?

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf.

Continuing our theme about settings, this week we focus on yet another thesaurus pairing by the stellar authorial team of Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi, this time about rural and urban settings. Combined, the thesauruses, The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus, cover over 200 locations that you can study and adapt for authenticity in your writing. Pair them with other thesauruses we’ve covered in this series, and you can have a believable situation where your rabbi and priest protagonists walk into a bar and, well, the rest is up to you. But now you can tell a version of the story that we can believe because you’ll have the right tools to tell it.

Get the books at the links below, and don’t forget to check out our full discussion in this week’s video.

The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces

by Angela Ackerman & Bella Puglisi

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 259 pages

·  ISBN-10: 0989772551

·  ISBN-13: 978-0989772556

·  Publisher: JADD Publishing (May 22, 2016)

The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces

by Angela Ackerman & Bella Puglisi

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 304 pages

·  ISBN-10: 098977256X

·  ISBN-13: 978-0989772563

·  Publisher: JADD Publishing (May 22, 2016)

Note: These books and other thesauruses by Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi contain entries that can also be checked online via their database of definitions at One Stop for Writers. This service not only contains the same entries that you can find within these books, but they have additional categories exclusive to the service (like weather and color thesauruses), as well as a character creator that allows you to integrate traits, emotional wounds, etc. directly into character creation. If you’re an industrious writer who likes to know his or her character before writing about him, then check it out.

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 33: Discussing “A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting” by Mary Buckham )

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 33

Developing characters for your stories is an important part of the storytelling process. And most authors will devote plenty of time to this task. After all, the character is the one who makes the plot unique. Die Hard, for example, already comes prepackaged with an interesting concept (based on the thriller series that begins with The Detective by Roderick Thorp). But it’s made more interesting by its hero, John McClane, a flawed and sarcastic police officer who’s caught stopping a terrorist-driven tower heist in a district he doesn’t even work for!

Sounds good on the surface. But here’s the twist! The novel it’s based on, Nothing Lasts Forever, doesn’t feature John McClane. It features a character named Joe Leland, who’s introduced in The Detective. When he (and The Detective) was adapted to film, Leland was originally played by Frank Sinatra! And when Hollywood bought the rights for Die Hard, their idea was to bring Frank Sinatra back to reprise his role. But, as the Hollywood story goes, Sinatra turned it down, and so, to salvage what they had, Die Hard’s producers rebranded the story with a new character and series.

Think about that for a moment. How different would Die Hard have been if it had remained within its original series and original star?

Now, while you’re thinking about that, and thinking about how that likely would’ve eliminated the horror story that is A Good Day to Die Hard, consider how the story might change if the events didn’t take place in a tower. After all, even if the character changed from book to screen, the tower didn’t. The book, as does the movie, focuses on terrorists in a tower. But, what if it didn’t? What if it took place on a boat? Die Hard on a Boat (or Under Siege)! How about a bus? Die Hard on a Bus (or Speed)! What about at an airport? Well, that’s just Die Hard 2: Die Harder. But the point is, the setting can affect the story just as much as a character can. If you let it.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we’re done with characters. Instead, we’re discussing settings and how to make them part of the story in a way that doesn’t throw them away as nonessential. Our book, A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting by Mary Buckham, helps you navigate the murky waters of relevant scene-setting by walking you through a process of developing places that matter to your story. It’s a must-read!

Get the book at the link below, and check out my discussion video to find out more about it and why I recommend it.

And if you haven’t seen Die Hard for some reason, go get it now!

A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings

by Mary Buckham

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1599639300

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599639307

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; Revised edition (January 1, 2016)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

Considerations for Developing a Paperback Book (Including Creating and Revising an existing title)

As more writers eschew the mountainous path to publication via agents, editors, and traditional publishers, making wise decisions about self-publishing becomes not only more necessary than in times past, but vital if we want to compete with the million-dollar titans and their armies of production teams. And, yes, any one of us who has walked the level path around the mountain long enough has heard the cries for world-class quality by now. Fourteen years after the debut of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, the message about moving from rushed amateurism to edited professionalism has become loud and clear.

But, if we take the cries for quality seriously, then why would we consider converting the reflowable text from a KDP e-book into a crappily formatted paperback edition? Wouldn’t we want those cries for professionalism to extend to all formats, from content to presentation?

What it looks like when KDP offers to convert your e-book into a paperback.

If we care enough about our readers to give them a paperback or hardcover edition of our e-books, then we should also care enough to give them a quality copy of that paperback or hardcover edition. That means delivering the quality inside and out. And that means not skimping out on the tools that make such quality possible.

Now, for self-publishing writers who have no design or technical sensibilities, then outsourcing layouts and cover designs to a professional is the best bet. Common sense dictates this, even if the wallet screams for mercy.

But, what if the wallet is too thin? You want to get the book out to the public, but you’d also kinda like to eat a few nights this week. What then?

Well, there’s still hope. If you wrote your book on Microsoft Word or Scrivener (with Scrivener being the much cheaper yet more sensible writing tool for writers), then you could probably upload your document (MS Word) or converted document (Scrivener) directly to KDP, Draft2Digital, or whichever service you’re using to get your book out, and cross your fingers that it’s good enough. After all, maybe it is good enough. If you’ve spent any amount of time setting up sections in Microsoft Word, or establishing hyphenation rules as I’ve outlined in my 2016 article “The Art of Hyphenation,” then your .doc or .docx file may work well enough. It certainly would for a generic e-book, and there’s no reason for it not to work if your book is straightforward fiction with no special design considerations.

But what if your book is supposed to have fancy formatting? What if you want your chapter headings to have a cool shape embedded into the page behind them? Well, the good news is you can still do this. The bad news is that you can’t really do this in Microsoft Word. You’d need a special layout program for that. The worse news is that the most-used and best-known layout program for books (especially nonfiction) is Adobe InDesign, which if you know anything about InDesign, you’ll know that it’s from Adobe, the makers of needlessly expensive subscription software that has too few updates to justify the ridiculous pricing.

The better news is that Adobe isn’t the only company making software that self-published writers can use to better their products. The best news is that its strongest competitor does not require a subscription, and its buying price is very affordable.

Yes, I’m referring to Affinity Publisher, and if you’ve kept up with my blog or YouTube channel since April 2020, you’ll know I’m a fan of all things Affinity. In fact, I’ve used Affinity products (Designer, Photo, and Publisher) to redesign my paperback version of The Computer Nerd.

Now, maybe you’re happy with Microsoft Word and Microsoft Paint for your book design. I mean, if my book had this cover, it wouldn’t change a thing about the words inside.

An example of what not to do when designing a cover for your book.

And maybe that’s fine. But I don’t think anyone would buy a book that looked like that. And I don’t think they’d want a book that looked just as shoddy on the inside, either.

This means I have to consider what my readers want before constructing the paperback version, including what they may find aesthetically pleasing.

And this means upgrading my functional but basic Microsoft Word interior:

Into something more intentional, like what I can accomplish in Affinity Publisher:

Yes, after researching and practicing the self-publishing game for many years now, I’ve learned a few things about how to make a paperback worthy of seasoned readers. And now I’d like to pass them along.

Here are the considerations you might want to make before uploading your formatted document to KDP or some other distributor where readers might accidentally find you.

Interior:

(Microsoft Word)

Pros:

  • You probably already wrote your draft in MS Word, so preparing for readers is just a matter of uploading to KDP, Draft2Digital, or Smashwords, provided your document is formatted in a way that passes inspection.
  • Creating e-books in MS Word and uploading them to Amazon is really easy and intuitive. Even if you choose not to create a paperback edition, you can still create a functional e-book through minimal effort.
  • Converting text to PDF is also very easy. If you do base your paperback on your MS Word document, then you’ll want to first “Export to PDF,” as that will preserve your format.
  • Even though MS Word is not a formatting tool, it can still handle basic layouts appropriate for fiction, like headers or footers, section breaks to permit alternative headers and footers and page layouts, and page numbering within headers or footers.

Cons:

  • Microsoft Word is not technically a formatting program, which means it can’t do complex formats, including those common to nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines.
  • Fixing a typo in a formatted Word document can throw off the layout for the entire book.
  • Because pages shift around so easily, wrecking pagination and other position-dependent sections of text or images is a constant headache. Be careful not to breathe on your text too hard.
  • Hyphenation and other typographic solutions are wonky at best.
  • Special formatting like embedding shapes or images behind text, or creating special designs for aesthetic effect is impossible.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Remember that everything from your title page (front) to your promotions for other books (back) will be part of the same document. To prevent insanity from taking over your layout, remember to set up your book by sections and be mindful of how right (recto) pages differ from left (verso) pages, as well as how both differ from first pages. And remember that these three page layouts are your only considerations throughout the section. If you need a new layout, then you need a new section.
  • Convert to PDF when you’re finished.
  • Don’t upload your PDF until you know you’re finished with it. Changing anything translates into hours’ worth of revision work.
  • Check out my article on hyphenation on how to handle the nuanced elements of formatting for paperback books in MS Word.

(Affinity Publisher)

Pros:

  • Inexpensive but powerful software that you need to buy just once!
  • Integrates well with its two companion software for images and designs, Photo and Designer.
  • Allows for custom layouts via “Master Pages” that you can apply to any page, eliminating the need for sections.
  • Because it’s a layout program, it allows you to arrange your text and images however you want, including through layers. This makes it possible to create fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, and magazines—whatever you want!
  • Basic formatting techniques like custom pagination, drop caps, and hyphenation is both simple and intuitive to use.
  • Making a change to the text while allowing the document to adapt is fairly simple.
  • If Photo or Designer is installed, you can edit images on the fly using the Studio Link feature.
  • Some repetitive tasks like starting a new chapter on a recto page a third of the way down can be handled automatically (with instruction).
  • Exports to PDF.

Cons:

  • Still not quite as advanced as Adobe InDesign, especially when it comes to handling text outside of margins.
  • Just because it’s easier to format interiors in Publisher than it is in MS Word doesn’t mean it’s quicker. Revisions (if needed) go a lot faster, but the initial design can still take hours to accomplish.
  • No software is perfect. You’ll still need to review the entire document for extra pages added whenever you make changes that risk pushing the text down past the orphan line.
  • Creating and applying Master Pages can take some getting used to.
  • Not ideal for writing, just for formatting. Any additions or changes you make to the text should begin in your origin document.
  • Doesn’t allow for simultaneous bold/italics/underline enhancements to text, if you even need that kind of thing. Your font family of choice will need a version that simulates bold italics to get that effect.
  • Isn’t ideal for electronic formats. Only print.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Buy the dedicated workbook and keep it near your desk. When it comes time to design your book, refer to Chapter 5. Trust me, it’s all the advice and considerations you need. It’s what I used to remake the paperback edition of The Computer Nerd.

(Adobe InDesign)

Pros:

  • Can do most everything Affinity Publisher can do, except for using a Studio Link to swap in toolbars from its companion Photo or Designer apps (Photoshop and Illustrator respectively).
  • Can actually do more than what Affinity Publisher can do, like manage text and characters outside the margins (if I’m not mistaken).

Cons:

  • The COST!!!

How to Use Effectively:

  • For this, I defer to anyone who knows the program because I don’t. I know what it does, but I don’t know all that it can do because I don’t use it. I just know it’s powerful, if not complicated. But really, Affinity Publisher makes more sense if you’re interested in creating an excellent product for one low cost.

(Scrivener)

Pros:

  • It’s capable of creating a formatted text for publication.

Cons:

  • No one actually understands how to do this effectively.

Honestly, I love Scrivener as a writing and organization tool, but I have no interest in trying to turn it into a publication tool, even if Scrivener 3 tries to simplify it. Last time I investigated its formatting tools, my brain transformed into a pretzel. Wasn’t worth it to me. If I ever look into its formatting tools more seriously, I’ll revisit the topic. But honestly, a combination of MS Word and Affinity Publisher can accomplish everything I need to create a worthy paperback novel (or e-book).

Exterior:

(Microsoft Paint)

Pros:

  • You’re joking.
  • Okay, it’s probably already installed on your computer.

Cons:

  • It’s Microsoft Paint.

(PaintShop Pro)

Note: This is the program I’ve been using for years until I found Affinity Photo.

Pros:

  • It’s better than Microsoft Paint.
  • It’s lightweight enough to keep you from getting overwhelmed by features.
  • Can handle moderate editing through layers and brushes, including cropping, burning, dodging, and other essential modification tools.
  • Integrates well with subsidiary programs like Painter Essentials and GRFX.
  • Doesn’t require a lot of memory to run.
  • Has a user-friendly shop integration to plugins that are actually good.
  • One-time fee (per annual version).
  • Often appears in a Humble Bundle.

Cons:

  • Saves only in RGB format (making it horrible for print books).
  • Has limited features for special effects. To accomplish certain actions, you might need to use a plugin or another program entirely.
  • Doesn’t have access to LUTs, making color treating difficult.
  • Upgrades are annual and require a new payment to access (though these are still mostly affordable, especially if you wait for them to show up in a Humble Bundle).
  • Almost double the cost of the superior Affinity Photo (unless you wait for it in a Humble Bundle).

How to Use Effectively:

  • First of all, note that I do not recommend PaintShop Pro for designing paperbacks. You need the CYMK format to design print items effectively, and PSP cannot save or display in CYMK. For proof that it’s bad for print, look at the differences between my original paperback (PaintShop Pro 9) and my updated paperback (Affinity Photo) for The Computer Nerd.
  • That said, PaintShop Pro is still competent for electronic book cover or interior picture design (in RGB format), as long as you don’t need anything fancy.
  • Just remember to use layers and save in the native format before you export to JPG. This will come in handy if you need to make adjustments down the road.

(Affinity Photo and Designer)

Note: I’m including both software because you may need either a photo composition (Photo) or a vector composition (Designer) to create your covers.

Pros:

  • One-time fee of $50 (when there are no sales).
  • Single purchase includes all future updates and upgrades (at least until Affinity releases a true successor).
  • Can handle layers, blends, masks, inpainting tools (for smart erasing), LUTs, and all the things you need to make an effective cover or composite (in both print and electronic forms).
  • Can save in CYMK, TIF, and other nonstandard formats (including PDF).
  • Integrates with Affinity Publisher for on-the-fly image editing.
  • Has useful workbooks and tutorials available.
  • Can integrate with useful app plugins like Luminar 4 and Painter ParticleShop.
  • Has a built-in plugin store for easily adding new brushes.
  • Has one of the best designer communities on the Internet (and YouTube).
  • Can mimic many of Photoshop’s special tricks, like using smart objects for mockup designs.
  • Directly incorporates stock photos from Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash (though you still need to check their licensing before using them in commercial works).

Cons:

  • Still not quite as advanced as Photoshop.
  • Image filter designers rely heavily on Photoshop for designing their special tools, keeping Affinity Photo as an afterthought (though they still might work).
  • Even though it handles smart objects well, Affinity Photo still cannot replicate Photoshop’s “actions,” which renders many design tools useless.
  • It cannot yet handle objects designed for Lightroom.

How to Use Effectively:

  • Really, just do what I do: experiment, watch tutorials, study the workbook, and experiment some more.
  • LUTs, blends, and gradient tools are your friends.
  • Invest in stock photos, especially Depositphotos during Appsumo deals (in May and on Black Friday), to get the most of your image potential.
  • For more generic photos, including image filters, make use of the integration with Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash. Just remember to convert them to Raster.
  • If you’re designing a paperback, design for the front and back cover, not just the front.
  • Always start your composition in CYMK format if you expect to print it. Likewise, make sure to use “transparent background color” if you plan to use PNG images to prevent unwanted backgrounds.

(Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom)

Note: I don’t use these programs, so my perspective is based on videos and research.

Pros:

  • These are the top tools of the industry.
  • If it can be done, then these are the programs that can do it.
  • Every plugin and theme designer builds for them.
  • Finding instructions on how to use them for your specific use case is easy.

Cons:

  • Requires an expensive monthly subscription to use.
  • Doesn’t get updated nearly often enough to justify the price.
  • Adobe.

How to Use Effectively:

  • See my note above. That said, any sophisticated photo or vector manipulation tool needs layers and masks to work well, so you should learn how to use those features.

Other Options and Conclusion:

Hopefully this article and these checklists will help you make a decision on how to approach your print books, or even your e-books if you wish to keep things simple. If you want to see a longer form explanation of how these differences look, then check out my companion video on the topic, released earlier this morning.

But, if you want to bypass all the potential pitfalls that come with formatting for e-books and paperbacks, you could invest in a tool designed exclusively for formatting. The top performer in the market right now is Vellum, which boasts “beautiful books,” although I’m not sure what its record for paperbacks is at the moment. I just know it’s well-revered as an e-book creation tool. If you check out any presentation on Vellum, you’ll soon agree that the books it produces are top of the line in design. But is that you’re only option? And is it even your best option?

Other tools for exporting books include Calibre (my preference), Kindle Create, and the Reedsy Book Editing Tool.

Or, if you’re willing to wait a little longer, you might be interested in a new challenger entering the ring soon that will likely upset the competition.

Meet Atticus. Get on the waiting list. Learn more at Kindlepreneur.

But if you can’t wait for Atticus, just remember this:

Calibre is good for e-books only and works by converting your text to HTML (the native language of e-books), which you can then design as uniquely as you want, as long as you don’t have to make any drastic updates to your text after you’ve formatted it.

Kindle Create also designs e-books only, and provides just a handful of themes that may or may not be good for your book. It’s also limited in how it handles front and back matter. I think it also designs for Kindle only, which means you’re probably not going to get much out of it if you’re creating for other platforms. But on the positive side, it can create not only reflowable books like novels and memoirs, but it can also create textbooks and comics (early access feature, as of this writing).

The Reedsy Book Editing Tool is a bit friendlier when it comes to publication options (it creates both e-book and print editions), but it still struggles with front and back matter (or did the last time I tried using it). And like Kindle Create, its theme options are limited, if not too limited. That said, if you’re looking to go wide, this is your free tool of choice.

Note: Calibre, Kindle Create, and the Reedsy Book Editing Tool are all free to use, so it doesn’t hurt to give each one a try to see if they’re useful for you.

Lastly, Vellum is the big dog in the formatting space, and its purpose is to design not only the best looking interiors, but also the best organized books, which means boxsets are a specialty feature here. But it’s also expensive ($199 for e-books only or $249 for both e-book and print access), and it’s only available for Mac, which means many authors won’t get to use it even if they buy it (unless they want to spend even more money on a Mac emulator). Also, like all the other tools, it’s unfairly limited in its theme options. That’s actually authors’ number one complaint about it.

But if none of these options work for you, then consider why. Do you prefer to do things manually? If so, then I hope my checklist will inform your choices. But if you prefer using tools that do the formatting for you, but you just don’t like how limited the above options are, then get on the waiting list for Atticus. I can tell you right now that its theme options alone make it worth the wait. It’ll also be available for Windows, not just Mac. It will cost you some cash to own, but not nearly as much as Vellum. And, well, let’s just say there’s more to come.

Regardless of what you choose, though, I hope your publishing considerations go well. Even if you’ve designed an ugly book like I had back in 2015, you can still fix it. With the right tools.