A Writer’s Wormhole: from novelist to publisher in 3 Easy Nervous Breakdowns

Screech Owl in Wood Duck House

Last week, a desperate quest for sanity compelled me to stand down from my mind-numbing routine and ask “What on Earth has happened to me?” I was a writer. Somehow, however, I must have entered one of those wormholes the physicists talk about. While it was a route to another part of the universe where I need to go, it was a journey of suffocating pressure.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill: The Writing Process

For years, I lived in Applebutter Hill, a fictional land with portholes into mythical worlds where two shy teenagers travel in a camouflaged airship dubbed the Cloud Scooper. Classrooms transform into realistic representations of places like Westminster Abbey, and a grumpy acorn inspires a song with the tag line, “Mighty oak trees are nothing but little nuts who stood their ground.” This world is not entirely of my own making. It is inhabited by the spirits of loved ones, friends and even enemies.

My theory of writing is informed by my identity as a journalist. Get the story and write it up; everything beyond the inquiry stage is editing. For fiction, inquiry occurs in the imagination.

Editing a Novel

Once I had it down, I picked and fussed. I combed through the novel for errors, phrases that could be tightened up, things that weren’t clear. I tried to make the dialog more realistic, the narrative crisper. I rearranged paragraphs, sentences and even single words, in a quest to present information in the perfect order for building and sustaining suspense.

I invited others to read my novel and give feedback. Fortunately, I have people in my life who are willing to say something other than, “Yeah, it’s great. I liked it.” I agonized over their comments, took their advice and made changes. Ultimately, the manuscript cowered in fear that I would move a comma, question an adjective or turn something else into a contraction just to reduce the word count.

Bringing a Book from Manuscript to Publication

If I was distracted, forgetful or uninvolved in the everyday details of life while writing and editing, it was nothing compared with the next stage. The novel was done. Though I would love to continue writing, to delve into my notes on a sequel or work on something else entirely, I restrained myself. Nowadays, I am simply shepherding the work of my life through the publication process.

At first, it wasn’t complicated. I researched agents, sent out queries and tried not to despair of the emptiness that was my In Box. But, the clock was ticking and my patience was wearing thin. I decided to self-publish.

What company should I go with? Create Space or Lulu, Smashwords or Book Tango? What about the others? I made my choices (Create Space for print and Kindle; Smashwords for the other eBook options). Did I choose wisely? I have no idea. I suspect that any of the many options would be workable. The wildcard is the author’s willingness and ability to press on with promotions.

Choices, Choices, Choices!

Create Space has several options for every aspect of the process. For the interior design, for instance, you can upload a print-ready PDF or use their online Interior Reviewer, which does the conversion for you – both are free. The trick is that you need to, at the very least, make a properly formatted .doc, .docx or .rtf.

You can also pay them $379 to design the interior for you. I think I truly entered the wormhole, when I realized that Create Space’s discounts on promo copies don’t kick in until you order 5,000. Yeah, that’s “five thousand.” The savings on multiple copies is on shipping only. $379 buys a lot of promotional copies.

The Novel’s Interior Design

I decided to design my novel’s interior myself. Are you raising an eyebrow? Well, get the other one up there; it’s a crazier idea than it seems.

Formatting your book starts with choosing a trim size. 6″ x 9″ is the most popular and the one I chose. Create Space provides guidelines on margins and gutters, and a trip around Word’s Page Set-up dialog turns your manuscript into something resembling a book.

Then there’s Styles. If you’re the average Word user, just throw everything you think you know about formatting out the window; it may look great for printing a manuscript, but that’s not how it’s done. The pros use Styles, not local formatting. A Style is a collection of choices about font and paragraph attributes and parameters (such as what Style the following paragraph should be) bundled together and given a name.

Time for more reading. Being the prudent sort, I practiced on new documents. I congratulated myself on how quickly I was getting the hang of it. Somehow, however, I lost a measure of cynicism and forgot everything I had come to expect from Microsoft. I was, therefore, shocked to learn that Word 2010 doesn’t automatically make these new Styles available to other documents. They need to be imported. Also, unlike Word 2007, the Developer Tab is not on the ribbon.

Book Design: Formatting Problems & Headaches

The problems really started when I tried to import Styles. Since I am blind, I use text-to-speech software to access the computer and the internet. Wonderful as this is, it has some drawbacks. Chief among them is that software and website developers are a baffling combination of uninformed and uninterested, when it comes to adding the 1s and 0s that allow screen readers to communicate with their products.

Running up against some of these stumbling blocks sent me over the edge. I was so close! While hovering over my computer in a state of paralysis, I realized what I should have known all along – I am not, nor do I want to be a professional book designer. My novel deserves better. I conceded defeat. I soothed my ego by assuring myself that I had – in over a hundred hours that I will never get back – at least learned enough about the topic to be somewhat conversant in it. I then threw in the towel, ran up a white flag and spent $397. Was that a mistake? More on that later.

Free E-Version of The Heart of Applebutter Hill & a Chance to Win YA Fantasy in Print


What Others are Saying About The Heart of Applebutter Hill

The Heart of Applebutter Hill book cover shows a cave scene - stalactites reflected in an underground lake, while a hand holds the Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photos, Rich Hill;, design, Lizza Studios.

“In a way, the tale acts as an all-encompassing guide to childhood, as it details the struggles of bullying, consumerism and being cast from society.”
1/1/14, Michael Wintermute, Wyoming County Press Examiner
‘Meshoppen author pens mystery novel’ http://wcexaminer.com/?p=39493 

“It was a great adventure story with likable, well-rounded characters with lots of different abilities and struggles — many of which kids rarely get to read about! My favorite was Curly Connor, not many writers write dogs this well! …”
10/22/13 Max Ray, Comments on homepage http://DonnaWHill.com

“Hill believes The Heart of Applebutter Hill will help sighted readers understand the reality of blindness as well as give blind youngsters a character with whom they can identify. Reviewers agree.

‘Hill has done a superb job conveying the impact of going blind, as her heroine finds refuge in music and fantasy,’ playwright Uke Jackson wrote.’

‘I believe Hill has a gem here,’ wrote University of Scranton professor emeritus Patricia Gross. ‘I particularly savored the poetry and songs that underlay the action.” “I believe Hill has a gem here,” wrote University of Scranton professor emeritus Patricia Gross. “I particularly savored the poetry and songs that underlay the action.'”
12/19/13, MARY THERESE BIEBEL, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader
‘The biggest project of my life’ http://timesleader.com/news/features/1050744/The-biggest-project-of-my-life

“It was one of those books you sit down with and you blink and suddenly discover you’ve read 100 pages…”
2/17/14 Niffer’s Review, Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18153835-the-heart-of-applebutter-hill#other_reviews

“I had the pleasure of getting an early read on Donna’s book; I
still think about the characters, and especially the cloud ship!…”
3/18/13 RobertLeslie Newman Comments on homepage http://DonnaWHill.com

“This book had a mixture of realism and fantasy.
Something for everybody, young and old alike.”
4/24/14, Eileen Corman, Amazon Reviews http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Applebutter-Hill-ebook/dp/B00CNG6DDM 

“This book is a great read for young and old alike. Anyone interested in a fiction novel that combines fantasy with reality, humor and adventure, this is
for you. The detail of the imagination of the writer is evident at every turn of the story…”
12/29/13, Lisa E. Robinson, Amazon Reviews http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Applebutter-Hill-ebook/dp/B00CNG6DDM

“The amazing thing about the way Donna Hill has written this novel
is that it weaves the experience of a child who is blind into a novel that is engaging on its own. I think it is an excellent choice for parents who want
to provide a unique way to help their children avoid assumptions and stereotypes as they expand their view of diversity.”
3/29/14, B. Wentz, Amazon Reviews http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Applebutter-Hill-ebook/dp/B00CNG6DDM

“What I really enjoyed was that the character (who is blind) was portrayed
in a positive, competent way. A great addition to any school or home library.”
January 12, 2014, NW Reader, Amazon Reviews http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Applebutter-Hill-ebook/dp/B00CNG6DDM

Meet the Author of The Heart of Applebutter Hill

After workshop on the novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill & Blindness Issues, U. of Scranton Education Students Gather Around Donna & Hunter for a Photo Op: photo by ashley allegraInvite Donna W. Hill to be a guest speaker for workshops, seminars and classes. Topics include writing, songwriting, anti-bullying and mainstreaming students with visual impairments. Write to her using the “Contact” link on this page.

Also coming — contests and special features.

Accessibility Issues for People Using Screen Readers

Screen reader users, there are significant issues with Word Press’s “Leave a Reply” form – which is labeled on this site “So, What Do You Think?”Here’s a “temporary” solution. Every page and post now has a link labeled “Accessible Comment Form for Screen Reader Users.” It will be sent to me, and I will post it on your behalf. The URL is: https://donnawhill.com/accessible-comment-form-for-screen-reader-users-3

About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is a writer, speaker, animal lover and avid knitter from Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Her first novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is an adventure-mystery with excursions into fantasy for general audiences. Professionals in the fields of education and the arts have endorsed it as a diversity, inclusion and anti-bullying resource for junior high through college. A songwriter with three albums, Hill provided educational and motivational programs in the Greater Philadelphia area for fifteen years before moving to the mountains. Her essay, "Satori Green" appears in Richard Singer's Now, Embracing the Present Moment (2010, O-Books), and her cancer-survivor story is in Dawn Colclasure’s On the Wings of Pink Angels (2012). From 2009 through 2013, Hill was an online journalist for numerous publications, covering topics ranging from nature, health care and accessibility to music, knitting and chocolate. She is an experienced talk show guest and guest blogger and presents workshops about writing and her novel for school, university, community and business groups. The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and e-versions at Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Create Space and other outlets. It is also available through Bookshare for readers with print disabilities.
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2 Responses to A Writer’s Wormhole: from novelist to publisher in 3 Easy Nervous Breakdowns

  1. Lyn says:

    I conceded defeat. I soothed my ego by assuring myself that I had – in over a hundred hours that I will never get back – at least learned enough about the topic to be somewhat conversant in it. I then threw in the towel, ran up a white flag and spent $397.
    Think of it this way Donna, that only equates to $3.97 an hour; And you can also advise others – contemplating the same course of action of trying to do it themselves – not to.
    I can’t wait to read your novel 🙂


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