Saturday, 14 September 2013

Which Way is North?

In a weeks time I will be heading off on holiday to Wales. My last trip away was for my honeymoon at Disney World so this time we are planning to keep it lower key (and considerably lower budget too). With that in mind, the holiday is likely to involve quite a lot of walking. We have done our research and Snowdonia is blessed with an overabundance of scenic trails (including the mountain itself), but one thing that I have come to learn is that I have no idea how to read a map or even a compass for that matter.

I am referring to the large fold-out ordnance survey maps designed for serious walking aficionados, not simple road maps or street plans. If I am completely honest, I would actually go so far as to say that I am scared of them. Normally, I would try and leave this type of task to my wife (just lost a huge number of man points for admitting that) as in our usual roles of travelling, I am the driver and she is the navigator. With us now owning our own car and Katie having acquired a license of her own, the dynamic has altered. I am expected to do my share of the navigating and this extends beyond driving.

Previously on this blog, I have stated that I like to fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to writing and I suppose that when I go travelling it is no different. Guide books are all very well, but only when I get to see a place with my own eyes and breathe in its air, can I really know how I want to spend my time there. Sometimes though, forward planning is essential, hence we have bought the maps. Without them, we run the risk of finding ourselves well and truly lost.

This brings me to my writing again. A map is ultimately an essential part of any journey (whether we choose to use it or not) yet when I published my debut novel, The Outback, I did not include one. In this instance, by map, I am obviously referring to the Table of Contents (ToC). Amazon guidelines state that they must be included, but the rule is not enforced and has devolved into more of a guideline.

Why did I not include a ToC in my book? Well, the short answer is that I was a little afraid of them. The instructions on how to add a ToC on the KDP website are atrociously complicated. And to be honest, I never really understood the purpose of them. I do not own a Kindle or any other type of e-reader. Whether that changes is up to Santa Claus, so for the time being I am using the Kindle for PC app to download e-books from Amazon.

It was only a few weeks ago when I was fortunate enough to procure some free advertising for my novel that I realised that I really needed to add those final professional touches to my book (the other thing that I was missing was a mailing list sign up, but that is another blog post altogether). Every traditionally published e-book has a full contents added and therefore to omit one immediately makes a book look amateurish. I had to overcome my fear of technology and learn how to create a fully navigable ToC.

Editing is an area of the novel writing process that requires either professional or at the very least an objective pair of eyes, but formatting is something that every author can learn how to do. It is also so simple a process, that an author would be have to be crazy (or have an abundance of capital) to feel the need to hire somebody to do it for them.

As I stated earlier, the guidelines given by KDP were beyond my comprehension. I do not know how to write in HTML and the only time I use it is when pasting pre-written code into my webpage. I was, therefore, amazed to discover that there was a much simpler way of doing things using the inbuilt functions of Microsoft Word. I found the information in the Smashwords Style Guide. This how-to manual was produced with Smashwords in mind, but the information on creating a ToC is one of the sections which is universal to all formatting when using a Word Doc.

The post immediately following this one will feature a step by step guide to creating a ToC using Word. Here, I simply want to state the importance of having the ToC in the first place. When readers browse books by indie authors they are always on alert for anything that sets the novel apart (in a negative way) from one that was produced by a publishing house. If the bright blue highlighted text indicating a workable ToC does not appear in the sample, this will be noticed. Whether it is strictly necessary does not matter. It implies that the book has not been formatted to a full and professional standard and we all know what that then implies. A badly written book.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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