Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The Razor’s Edge: The Sport Rider Stories

Friday, January 15th, 2016

I am pleased to announce the publication of my book The Razor’s Edge: The Sport Rider Stories…

 

“Riding a motorcycle at speed invites one of life’s most profound experiences.  Living as it does in that narrow space between danger and exultation, a fast motorcycle represents one of modern life’s last anchors to something ancient and timeless.  Done well, riding a fast bike on a good road holds the power to put a rider in a state of exalted grace.

Jeff Hughes wrote for Sport Rider magazine for eight years and, during that time, described that magic better than nearly anyone else.  In this book you will find the complete collection of his stories that appeared there, including such iconic features as Degrees of ControlThe Devil on My ShoulderThe Most Honest Place I Know, and the title piece:  The Razor’s Edge.  Part cautionary tale, part joyous recollection, in these 53 stories Hughes puts us on the seat behind him and entertains, edifies, and educates–even as he offers rare insight into the world’s finest sport.”

 

The Razor’s Edge: The Sport Rider Stories

 

Available in both ebook and paperback editions:

 

AMAZON (ebook and paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ADURBTY/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

APPLE (ebook): https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-razors-edge/id1073447288?mt=11

BARNES & NOBLE (ebook): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-razors-edge-jeff-hughes/1123249469?ean=2940157738051

KOBO (ebook): https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-razor-s-edge-8

 

 

The Trials and Tribulations of DIY Book Formatting

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

I’m not a Navy SEAL and have never been through BUD/S. But after 24 weeks, you can imagine how those wrapping up their time at Coronado must view the new arrivals.

“You poor f*cks!”

And so it was a few weeks ago, as I was finishing the editing of my book. I mean, wrangling the words is the heavy lift, right? Now for the fun stuff. An easy glide to publication…

Looking back, I shake my head at the naiveté.

Even going in with the mistaken notion that it’s easy, I suppose the first question is why do it oneself? Why subject yourself to the this-is-most-definitely-not-a-fun task of book formatting? When, just like there are cover designers and copy editors and proofreaders who specialize in those things, there are plenty of professional book designers who bring an exacting eye and long experience to the table?

For me, the answer was simply that I was averse to ceding what I anticipated might be a naturally iterative process to the one-and-done (or two – or thrice – and done, for those more flexible designers) dynamic that surely must underlie this work. I had zero expectation that, having shipped off my .docx file and received a formatted PDF in return, that I would be done. Indeed, even as I write this, I intend the final, FINAL edit of my book to be when I have the physical proof – a real book – in hand. YMMV.

With that as the backdrop, I thought I’d note a few of the issues I encountered, in the hope it might help some other poor f*ck – sorry, I mean author – treading along this path behind me.

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First, like many here, I long ago determined to have both ebook and paperback versions of my book available. KDP and CreateSpace are not the only options out there. But they have certainly been front and center in making that ebook/paperback duo easy and increasingly common. There’s not much reason anymore to not do both.

The first, pleasant, surprise was that getting my ebook ready was a piece of cake. Notwithstanding the aura of here-there-be-dragons that has long wrapped itself around the topic – Guido Henkel’s Zen of Ebook Formatting has lived on my iPad for quite some years now – I found the one thing that made it painless. The magic pill.

Vellum.

Yeah, it’s not cheap. Especially if you spring for the unlimited license. And, for sure, it’s not going to be everything to everyone. But it’s among the more elegant pieces of software I’ve used in awhile. And, more importantly, it does exactly what it purports to do.

From the time I compiled out of Scrivener – where I do my actual writing – it took all of fifteen minutes in Vellum before I had epub and mobi versions built and ready for publication. And it only took that long because I had to manually go through each of my 53 chapters and un-tick the box that adds a chapter number.

A sidebar: For years I’ve done final editing on paper. My eyes just seem to pick up typos and grammatical issues and other faux pas better there than on-screen in Word or Scrivener. In using Vellum, I discovered that reading an epub or mobi version inside the iBook or Kindle apps on my MacBook Pro is an even better way to spot those errant rogues. Much better, even, than paper. I now have a new editing process as a manuscript heads into its final stages.

Seriously, fifteen minutes. Vellum. Just do it.

My excitement at having my ebook ready to go got an even bigger boost when my cover designer (ebooklaunch.com – highly recommended) sent me the mockups for my cover. I loved it! I could smell the finish line.

There was only one little thing. I had ordered both ebook and print book covers. Now everyone knows a cover for a paperback book is slightly different from its digital cousin. The physical print cover has a spine and a back and both of those elements must be included in the design.

My first hint of the new road I was on was when Dane asked me for my trim size. And the page count.

Trim size is easy, right? Just pick one. I go to my library, pull out a volume by an author I like, same genre. “Sure,” nodding my head. “I’ll just make it like this one.”

Page count was a little harder. I mean, for months, while I performed an iterative series of edits, Scrivener dutifully reported my 83K word count. And when I moved over to Word to finally format it, it reported I had 234 pages. Of course, that was 234 letter-size pages. I knew the page count would grow when scaled to a smaller page size. But how much?

It was right about there that I first began to have an inkling of what lay in front of me. That, alas, whatever good Karma I had gained in using Vellum on the ebook side… was exhausted.

Second sidebar: It was also right about then that I recognized the mistake I had made many months previous. Now my book is a collection of 53 stories, printed in Sport Rider magazine over a period of eight years. For each of those stories I had two copies sitting on my hard drive – the final, block-formatted, single-spaced, paragraphs delineated-with-a-blank-line draft I had made when writing it; and the conventional, paragraph-indented, double-spaced draft I had actually submitted to the magazine.

When importing into Scrivener, preparatory to putting my book together, I chose the former, block-formatted versions. M-I-S-T-A-K-E.

Now there’s probably a quick way in Scrivener or Word, or both, to reformat my block-formatted originals into a conventional, indented style. Alas, despite long use I don’t pretend to be a maven in either of those pieces of software. I just use ‘em for what I need, pretty much ignoring the features around the periphery.

And Vellum actually obscured the problem – handily transforming my ebook version.

So it was way late in the game when I realized my print-version manuscript was a problem. I had a million of these non-indented paragraphs, separated from their kin above and below by a million blank lines. I didn’t relish manually going through the draft, fixing them. What to do?

After much faffing around with Scrivener (compile to paperback), Calibre, and a couple other already forgotten dead-ends, Vellum once again rode to the rescue. It has a little-used “export to RTF” feature. It boogered up some of the lovely formatting from my ebook – losing drop caps and section breaks, most particularly. But it fixed my big problem.

Import that into Word, save as a .docx, and I’m ready for the final lap.

It was a long lap.

I’ll stop here and confess that despite a lifetime of reading books – thousands of ‘em, literally – there are many little things I apparently never noticed. Even if one is in a hurry to get to the words, how does one miss, for instance, that nearly all books are full-justified? That would be me, the late-middle-aged guy in the back, slowly raising his hand.

For trim size I told Dane it would be 5.25×8. That was wrong. But I didn’t know it yet.

For margins I faffed around for awhile, finally settling on 0.75” on the top, 1” on the bottom, 0.75” on the outside, and 0.75” for the gutter. Mirrored, because this is a book.

Margins, beyond the minimums necessary for a good reader experience – having sufficient space on the outside to rest one’s thumbs, for instance; and not having your text disappear into the gutter – are an aesthetic. Simply what looks right and balanced. But they’re also very much interrelated with the font, font size, and line spacing. And all those together then inform the trim size.

I’ll jump to the end of the story and reveal that I had to tweak my margins. I found my rather ‘texty’ headers were crowded; while the footers, containing only page numbers, had too much white space. The whole effect felt like a pressing towards the top. So I flipped them, putting the 1” margin on the top and the 0.75” on the bottom. That worked. No more feeling like my pages were scrambling out of a box.

I played around with fonts a bit. I tried Garamond and Bookman and Palatino and a few others. In the end I came back to my old standby… Times New Roman. 12pt. I know, I know. Boring, done to death, and too narrow. I can’t help it.

Line spacing was single-spaced, at ‘exactly’ and 15pt. All other boxes in the paragraph dialog zero’d. No particular reason. Just tweaked until it looked right.

Text was justified on all sides. And, funny, as soon as you hit that box up in the toolbar, the suddenly square right margin puts you in mind that, yes, you really maybe have a book here.

With all that done, I quickly decided that the line length in my book was too short. Too dinky. Not enough gravitas. So after some mild angst – I discovered that after choosing a trim size you feel rather bound to it – I changed the trim size to 6×9. Much better.

The Vellum-created version of my ebook had hooked me on drop caps. Putting them back in my print version wasn’t hard. Just tedious. Opening each chapter, one by one, putting them back in by hand. But soon enough it was done. Mostly… A word of warning: changing most anything related to fonts or paragraph formatting will sh*t-can all those pretty drop caps you just spent thirty careful minutes putting in. Get your other formatting square. Then do your drop caps.

The ornamental section breaks that Vellum had also hooked me on were another story. After faffing around for awhile – by now it should be clear that this whole process included a lot of ‘faffing’ – I discovered that Word includes… count ‘em… all of one section break symbol in its character table. And not the really cool ones that are in Vellum, either. The good news is that after you get over the angst of not having the exact symbol you want, the one included in Word is quite serviceable. And OPTION-6 is the built-in keyboard shortcut to insert it.

I’m told that Adobe’s InDesign has a more sophisticated kerning algorithm than that built into Word. I have no reason to dispute that. But neither did I find the results out of Word to be deficient in any way I can point to. I had a handful of widows and orphans to manually deal with. But, generally, I found the text flow to look very nice.

At this point I had a print-version draft that was largely comparable to my already completed ebook. I thought I was nearly done. Once again, I was wrong. Very wrong.

I’m not going to detail the morass of quicksand that I was about to step into. Nightmares, especially those born in Redmond, are best soon forgotten. I’ll tell you what I wanted… I wanted a professional-looking layout job. With proper formatting of the front matter and a clean, neat Table of Contents. I wanted Roman numeral page numbers in the front, and Arabic numbers for the content itself. I wanted chapters to all begin on odd pages. I wanted my even page headers to display my book title. And I wanted my odd page headers to display the chapter title. Except for the first page of chapters, where I wanted no header at all. And, finally, I wanted blank pages to be blank – no headers.

Getting any one of those things is mostly pretty easy. What I soon discovered is that getting them all is where the rub comes.

And now I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you what the secret is. Two secrets, actually. One big, one small.

The small secret is that you have to learn about Styles. Actually you don’t, unless you want a Table of Contents. But most books have one of those, so, yeah, you do. You don’t need to become a maven. But you do have to understand the basics.

You can build a Table of Contents (TOC) two ways in Word: manually or automatically. Making one manually looks like sh*t. It just does. Trust me. Not to mention you’ve just created a very high opportunity to get something wrong. A minor, last minute tweak somewhere and you forget to redo the TOC and, voila, you’re all set to hear about it when some Amazon reviewer gives you two stars.

Word will also build you a beautiful, the-text-is-all-aligned-the-way-it’s-supposed-to TOC, and will update it any time you want with the click of a mouse so the page numbers are all what they’re supposed to be. But to have it do that – you guessed it – you first have to have used Styles.

Again, I’m not going to belabor all the faffing around I did trying to create custom styles, saving style templates, and everything else under the sun that didn’t work. If you’re like me you just want to write your story, not fiddle-fart around with “Heading This” and “Title That.” The fanciest I usually get is making chapter headings 18pt. My whole friggin manuscript is “Normal.” That’s fine. Here’s the version for us simple folk: go to your first chapter heading. Yeah, the one there in 18pt. Select that. Now go up to the toolbar, with the ‘Home’ tab selected. Head over to the ‘Styles’ section, right-click on “Heading 1,” and then click Update to Match Selection. Voila! Your “Heading 1” in the toolbar is now your style. Now go thru your document and iteratively select each chapter heading, each time heading up to the toolbar and clicking on “Heading 1.” You’ve now made each chapter heading a “Heading 1” style. And now you’re golden. Now you can let Word build your TOC. And it just works.

The other thing – the big secret, the most important thing I have to tell you in this whole, long epistle – is that you have to learn about Breaks. Again, you don’t have to become an expert. But you do have to understand the difference between page breaks and section breaks. And then you have to understand the difference between the types of section breaks. Don’t try and ignore them. Don’t try and slink around them. You’ll be sorry if you do. Learn about Breaks.

Here’s the reason… having the proper break in the proper place is the only way I know to pull all those other threads – a split between Roman and Arabic numeral pagination, even-page headers, odd-page headers, different headers on chapter start, proper blank pages, etc., etc. – together. So bite the bullet, spend a few minutes looking into how breaks work, and I guarantee you’ll live years longer.

One tiny little hint related to Breaks… there’s a paragraph symbol up in the main toolbar section of Word. I never much noticed it before. I surely never clicked on it. But it stands for “show all nonprinting characters.” Just like the old “reveal codes” in WordPerfect, twenty-five years ago. Once you put in a break, you’ll need that little tool to help find them. It mostly works fine. Except that if you put your cursor at the very top of a chapter – typically the blinky is sitting there just to the left of the first letter of your chapter title – and you insert a break there, you won’t see it.

Here’s a second small hint related to Breaks… double-clicking in either the header or footer portion of a page will bring up the header/footer overlay – and it will instantly tell what section you’re in.

Breaks… learn to love ‘em.

And now, finally, at long last… you’ve got your Word document formatted exactly like you want. It’s perfect. Now all you need to do is save it to PDF, ready for your print house.

The bad news is that the place you’re naturally going to head – File->Save As->PDF – sucks so bad you won’t believe it. You’re going to get a message thus: A header and a footer of section 1 are set outside the printable area of the page. Do you want to continue?

Actually, you’re going to get a whole bunch of these messages, one for each section you created. And if you, indeed, click through each of those messages Word will dutifully create your PDF. Only it won’t have your page numbers or headers. You can’t use it.

What’s going on is that Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, is convinced that this PDF you’re creating is destined for that laser or inkjet printer you have over in the corner. A printer which has much quicker constraints in terms of printing towards the edge of your paper than does your professional print-on-demand print house.

Alas, no amount of faffing around in Page Setup or Layout or anywhere else is going to fix it. Don’t even try.

The good news is that the much more obscure option of File->Print->PDF… works like a charm. Just use that. And now you’re done.

And with that, I’ll bid adieu. Other than to say that DIY book formatting certainly isn’t for everybody. But I’m glad I went through what I went through. I love how both my ebook and print versions look. And the next go-round will be far easier.

That said, I absolutely have two C-notes waiting for the first developer that creates a Vellum-like tool for the print-book side. I’ll toss in a bottle of your favorite beverage. And my eternal gratitude…

The End of an Era

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Well, it’s been exactly six months since I’ve heard from Kent Kunitsugu.  After eight years of being in nearly every issue – fifty-three stories – I think it’s fair to say I no longer write for Sport Rider magazine.

It was a cool gig while it lasted.

I’m proud of what I accomplished.  From the very beginning I sought to illuminate those motorcycling issues that I thought were important.  To describe the lessons, the joys, the often subtle nuances, that slowly presented themselves to me over three decades and hundreds of thousands of miles.  To share the bag of talismans I had been given.

More than anything, I tried to convey the magic – what it was like to actually be in the seat… running fast through nice country on a good bike on a fine road.  To wield well that incredible vehicle that so many of us love so passionately.

I’m grateful to Kent.  First for personally saving Sport Rider twice – initially in the late nineties when the original staff at the magazine was fired following an in-house imbroglio; and then a decade later after Andrew had his horrific crash up on the Angeles Crest.  In both cases Kent was called upon to put together nearly the entire magazine by himself, over many issues and for long spans of time – a herculean task that too few people today appreciate.

And then, when I came along in the summer of 2002, for being open-minded about things.  Previously, the Benchracing column had been reserved for guest authors – one-hit wonders who would drop a story and then be gone.  Despite that well-entrenched let’s-hear-from-lots-of-different-people-with-lots-of-different-perspectives formula, Kent didn’t hesitate in shaking things up – allowing me to begin dropping my byline there in the back of the magazine issue after issue.  With only a handful of exceptions, for those eight years the Benchracing column became the ‘Jeff Hughes’ space.

Not only that, Kent gave me room.  Most regular columns in most magazines are on the order of 800-900 words and run little more than a page.  Benchracing was no exception.  When, after my first two submissions, I asked for more, Kent didn’t hesitate.  He allowed me to wax loquacious with 1500 and 2000 and even a couple of 2500 word pieces.  To those who know the magazine business, and how precious editorial content  is, that was a rare gift.

I hope I returned the trust that Kent gave me.  I think I did.  I always – save one I-somehow-forgot-the-date-and-was-a-day-late-miscue – made my deadlines.  I always figured  Kent had enough headaches putting together each issue without worrying whether his contributors were going to get their stuff in on time.  I always tried to act like the professional we’re all supposed to be.

More than anything, I tried to craft good words.  To create stories that were polished and error-free and ready to publish.  To provide, in the words of the old newspaper dictum, ‘clean copy.’

And so why did it end?

I really don’t have an answer.  Kent hasn’t offered an explanation and I’m not inclined to ask for one.  But given the very challenged state of magazines and newspapers today, I could surmise that Sport Rider is facing declining ad revenues even as they were finally able to add a third full-time staffer – Bradley Adams joined the magazine late last year.  Since the amount of editorial content a periodical can publish is directly driven by those ad revenues, Kent may simply not have any space left over after he and Andrew and Brad have done their thing.

Just a guess.

Or maybe, as a friend of mine pondered in an email a few weeks ago… “Did Kent fire you? I  think he finally figured out you are a beer drinkin’, gun totin’, woman chasin,’ unPC, Harley rider!”

That might be it, after all.

The Immortality of Words

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Fifteen years ago I read a book called The Writing Trade, by John Jerome.  It depicted, journal-style, a year-in-the-life of a writer.  I loved it because it spoke to all those writerly things to which I had long aspired, ever since I was a teenager.  Here was someone doing what I so very badly wanted to do – write for a living.

A few days ago I pulled it off the bookshelf and began reading it again.  And very quickly, just like fifteen years ago, I was pulled into that world of of the minutiae of writing.  What it meant to be a writer on a full time basis.

Halfway through the book, I decided to see what John Jerome had been up to.  To see what other stuff he might have published since that 1992 publication of The Writing Trade.  Google can be a wonderful thing.

Alas.

John Jerome was dead.  Thirteen years after the year he depicted in his book, twelve years after he wrote it, ten years after it was published, and seven years after I read it – John Jerome had died.  Lung cancer had come calling.

It was a sobering context with which to finish the book.

One of the things John came back to frequently was the financial struggle.  Writing had afforded him the luxury of a lifestyle that many of us – and he himself – would consider blessed.  But it had not graced him with much financial certitude.  He lived pretty much week to week, depending upon the next freelance-work check to arrive in the mail.

I can empathize with that.  After writing for Sport Rider for eight years I can attest that anyone who does it for the money must have rocks in their head.  I certainly appreciate the check that follows a story submission – and I’ve always joked that those checks pay for my tires (and they do) – but the notion of actually trying to make a living from such a relative pittance is laughable.  I don’t write fast enough that, even were there enough similar monthly gigs, I could manage even a lower-middle-class living.

John Jerome was a good-to-excellent writer who, despite a lifetime of work at it, never really made it.  There are few that ever really do.  Even Hemingway lived well not because of the remuneration from his writing, but because of his penchant for marrying rich women.

Doesn’t seem quite right.

But then again, as I finished the last half of The Writing Trade, aware that John Jerome was no longer with us, I was more aware than ever of the immediacy of the words he had written.  That the voice he laid down on paper back in 1990 carried down over two decades, until now, even past the grave.

Maybe that’s why we do it.

Submitting a Story

Monday, May 18th, 2009

A little while ago I submitted my latest Sport Rider article to Kent (the editor).  It’s always a good feeling when I get that done.  I’m not sure whether it’s more from pleasure or from relief.  Probably a combination.

I love words.  I love it when I’ve worked them into an order that has a rhythm and a cadence and which says something I’m interested in.  I love having written.

But the process of writing itself can be frustratingly difficult.  I’m a good writer (I think).  But I’m not an especially fast writer.  It’s not like I sit down and quickly bang out a story.  The words have to be teased out.  And then wrestled into place.  It’s a laborious process.  You love it when you’re done, a new story in hand.  But only when it’s over.

Since the only chance I ever get to write is on the weekends, I’m not unhappy when we have some crappy weather which happens to correspond with a deadline.  And so the unsettled weather we had this weekend was fine with me.  Finish the draft of the story I started last weekend.  Read it one last time when I get home from work.  Send it along.

Crack a cold beer.