Advice:  eBook Writing Hints

by Ron Plachno



I have written now three nonfiction books and have just completed a fiction novel. I find some things similar and some things different. In several ways, I found fiction harder - due to text, format, avoiding names of other people and places, and English issues.


In general I find that for books I write, they should have several sections to be complete. The order can vary a bit, but the below is the order I use for both fiction and nonfiction books:

* Cover photo, 1400 pixels wide, 2100 pixels high
* Book Title and Author Name
* Copyright Notice and associated words
* ISBN number reference
* List of other books by same author
* Dedication (optional - if dedicating the book to someone)
* Table of Contents - active table if eBook such as ".epub"
* Fictional Names - Fiction books, optional - Notice that Names used are intended to be fictional and apologies if not
* Character Names - Fiction books, optional - List of Main Characters, can be a handy customer reference
* Forward (your thoughts on what is in the book)
* The Book itself, and all of its chapters, I tend to start new chapters on a new page always
* Epilogue (if you wish to give readers last thoughts or add an unusual second ending to the book
* About the Author - optional photo and or very short life biography


Most likely you are doing your book on a word processor. If so, you might recall that one of the biggest features of most word processors is the "find" function, often "ctrl f" to find places in your book. And of course there is often "find and replace" which is often "ctrl h." Those two functions I find can help fix common errors that I may have made in the text of the book. I would not suggest under find and replace though to "replace all" unless you are completely certain that is safe. Sometimes a word can also be a portion of another word and can lead to very odd issues. As an example, trying to replace "sever" can also damage a word like "several." But there are many instances of that. Therefore I always examine each replacement.


As I recall, Dean Koontz a very popular fiction author, once had something to say about editing.  He said something to the effect that the greatest days in his life were when he began a new novel, and that his worst days were when he was editing a novel.  I agree.  And some could say that they should just get an editor other than themselves.  But good luck finding a good one.  I have worked with a number of editors on resumes and on written works and only met one good one, my older son Ken.  And what made him great?  Ken helping on my first book stuck to the editing process and did not go further.  And so he worried about format, grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, things like that.  But he stayed out of style.  And style is where many editors who want to "help you" go wrong.  If you have 1000 people write an article, you will get 1000 different styles on how they approach it.  Some will say that some are better than others.  Perhaps.  But too often it is just a silly preference that gets in the way of real editing.  I once had someone edit a resume, and not only was it dramatically changed, but what it said no longer made sense, and in fact often was not even true.  The issue was that I had a technical background and the editor did not.  And so, my suggestion is that unless you can find a great editor, do the editing yourself.

How to edit yourself?  Of course spelling checkers help, but there are just a start.  I continue to read references about grammar rules, and then I go through the entire book editing perhaps at least four times.  The first two times I may make large changes or even add additions.  I have at times had chapters double in size or even had new chapters added.  I sometimes find that I may have talked too quickly and/or too concisely, assuming the reader knew some preliminary ideas.  But then later I realize that no, some areas need to be expanded for understanding.  Some areas also need to be fixed due to bad grammar.  And of course I always find things to add on the first few passes.

Edit passes for the third and fourth time for me generally are not major changes.  But I tend to find things like a verb used in past tense that should be present tense, or perhaps confusion of the word "there" with "their" or with "they're".  Or I might find errors in the quote rules.  But I would recommend four passes at least, unless you are far better than me, which you could be.  Sometimes after the second edit I will load the book into an ePUB format and read it on my hand held pad for editing runs the third edit or fourth and beyond.  Then when I find a problem, I can simply highlight the word or area with the problem in the ePUB reader that I use.  And then later, I can have my pad search for highlights as I sit in front of my computer making the real changes.  But I would not advise that on editing passes one and two where larger changes may be in order.

Otherwise, common errors are too many blank lines at the end of one chapter and before another which could even cause a wrong blank page in the middle of your ePUB book.  I am now finding that I should ensure that there are zero blank lines that I do not need.  My ePUB composer requires one blank line at the start of each chapter before the chapter heading, but that is all I try to give ... now.  But of course, errors are where you find them and can be many different types.


I find it best to avoid those as much as you can. Even if you believe you are saying nice things about a person or a company or a group say in Chapter 3, a person may object to something you said in Chapter 17 and not wish to be associated with your book at all. So I try to avoid most references to real people or real companies.


When I think I am selecting a totally unique name for a fiction character or company, I will often at least do a search on the internet to find who else might also be using that name. It is incredible some days on how hard it is to come up with a name no one else has thought of. Of course at times you might use a similar name and try to cover it at the book start that "all names are meant to be fictional," but best to try and avoid as much conflict as possible.


Of course it should go without saying that an author should avoid any direct usage of another's work or images without their approval. I do admit that for quotes from mostly famous people I will give the quote and also credit the person who authored it. Also note that it is sometimes a good idea to check the internet to see who really authored what. For example, the famous Bobby Kennedy quote which was something like: "You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not? Well, the main part of all of that came from George Bernard Shaw I believe. Also, some people claim that Mark Twain never said "Rumors of my death were highly exaggerated." Of course I am not certain that those people were around Mark Twain 100% of the time to be certain of what they say and what Twain said. So some research is suggested on quotes to be safe.


I find fiction can be harder than non fiction, mainly I felt because of the rules surrounding quotes, imbedded quotes, multiple paragraphs of quotes, and also capitalization. A good grammar book will help. I referred to grammar help often when doing my novel. I also at times used "find" to locate problem areas in my book. Here are two online references, the first for quotes and the second for capitals. And yes, sorry, these locations can change:


Note that under format I suggest an optional thing to do is to have a list of main characters in your book. I did that. But even more than your customers, the writer, you or I, may need that the most. Doing fiction work I would often ask myself - what was that characters full correct name again? Even if you decide to not put the character list in your book for your customers, you might wish to keep a list for yourself.


One way to approach fiction humor I find is to create characters first, and then write down their names and their oddities. I find it a good idea for fiction to have a character list at least for you the author so as to not keep changing the character names by accident, or their attributes. And if you want to write down oddities next to the name, not in the customer list but in your own private list, that could be helpful. Even if your theme is not humor, a comment such as:

John Jones - main character - tall Chinese fellow, limps on left foot, has red hair, smokes a pipe. is 52 years old

A comment like that in your own personal characters list might keep you from making the person a Samoan Islander the next time, who does not smoke and has black hair and is a teenager. Just a thought.


Hope this helps, at least a little. These are things I believe I found out mostly "the hard way." Best if others get a chance perhaps to see them ahead of time.

Ronald J. Plachno

July 21,2014

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