Going Secure with your Website

March 23, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Once upon a time on the Internet, you only needed to secure your website if you were selling on-line. Often you linked to another website to do this for you. Yet browsing any unsecured website, especially on public WiFi, can easily be snooped. To make your activity more secure, web browsers are increasing their warnings about ANY site that doesn’t have a security certificate. The little “i” beside the web address is soon to go red and add warnings on many, many websites.

As this initiative is being driven partly by Google, having a certificate also helps search engine rankings. If you have a free blog like this one on WordPress.com or on Blogger or similar, you’ll see they’ve gone to https already.

But if you host your own website, you may want to consider securing your site with an SSL certificate so this issue will not chase away viewers.

This Webnames article talks about the changes and what the browser warnings will look like.

This article talks about the kinds of certificates that are available. If you have a simple informational site, you’ll just need a basic domain validation type. But if you use sub-domains or have multiple sites, other options are available.

You can get a free certificate, but they have to be renewed often and have no support or insurance. If you have forms of any kind, including subscription or contact, paid will be more reliable. A basic paid certificate is a similar price to a domain name which makes it worth the small cost.

While you can install any certificate on your site, it’s easier to go with the options your hosting provider offers. This way, you also get their support and they’ll describe the steps on their servers. The process is fussy so that’s valuable. Give yourself time to sort out the bugs.

Here is a typical process. It will vary by host, server OS, and security vendor.

Step 1: Ordering the certificate you need. For example, I went to the SSL section of my host’s website and ordered there.

Step 2: Certificate Signing Request key: Typically, you’ll generate a CSR, then enter it into a form with your organizational info. This may be in 2 places on your host’s site.

Step 3: Often, there is then steps to set the certificate up in your website Control Panel under SSL or Security.

Step 4: Verify with the certificate provider. For example, they’ll email you a code to paste into a form to verify yourself. The certificate will then be Issued and emailed to you. Your site back end will be updated as well.

Step 5: Install the certificate. You then need to upload the certificate you received, usually into the form in step 3. Then you can select the certificate for your domain in your hosting control panel. Thus your site is certified secure.

Step 6: Site seal. You can then place a logo on your site to show your certification. This requires Header code, so I installed the “Insert Headers and Footers” plugin. (This can also be used for Google Analytics, Facebook pixel and so forth.)

You’re now officially secured. Run an SSL checker like this one, this one or this certificate detailed one to make sure everything is correct. Each reports a little differently.

Odds are good that your site is full of old http addresses like images and back links. Thus, you’ll get a “mixed content” error and still won’t get the green lock or similar in a web browser – even if the SSL checks out perfectly.

This article lists some of the fixes needed (you can ignore the Cloudflare section if you’re not using them – skip to Enforcing SSL).

The easier quick fix here was:
a) installing “SSL Insecure context fixer” plugin.
(Run the test first. It’s in the Dashboard, Tools menu. That tells you how to set it.)

b) In my case, the Custom HTML widgets needed to be updated to https links too.

If you’re still having issues, this tool identifies specific link errors.

As the above article mentions, you also want to update your website address on Dashboard, Settings, General to https. Also update your website links on social media sites.

Later, I’ll run a ‘search and replace‘ on the database to update all those image and internal links from http://domain.ca to https://domain.ca. Then I won’t need the plugin.

You can also use the “Broken Links Checker” plugin to check for redirected links, but I wouldn’t leave this plugin activated as it pumps the database too much and will slow your site.

Safe Surfing!

The Changing Landscape of Employment

March 23, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

Periodically, I write about trends in work and the economy. For example, The New Unemployed or Changing Jobs.

Fully half of all current jobs are expected to be automated or replaced by new technology within the next decade. I recently posted a related article about changes to energy and transportation.

In a TED talk by economist Daniel Susskind, he explores misconceptions and consequences of automation. How do we distribute wealth other than through work?
(For some reason the talk video is not posted on YouTube and the TED code doesn’t work now.)

In this TED talk, Anthony Goldbloom explores which jobs we’ll lose and which not. Machine learning makes the difference – is the task novel or is it about frequent, high-volume tasks a machine can learn? Already, computers can diagnose disease and mark exams better than humans. They’re learning to drive cars and anticipate our desires too.

On YouTube

I’d recommend people get much better guidance on their skills and aptitudes. Often, these are not obvious without considerable experimentation. We can be blind to what comes naturally to us. Yet working at what we’re naturally good at can make a huge difference in quality of life and benefit to society.

We would all benefit immensely if talented creatives, philosophers, healers and spiritual adepts didn’t have to seek other paid work to support themselves.
How all this will play out remains to be seen.


March 23, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Posted in Science, Media, Psychology, Health | Leave a comment
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Epigenetics is a fascinating field. I first heard about it through geneticist Bruce Lipton. At the time it was not an accepted branch of biology.

We’re all born with a fixed set of DNA that comes roughly half from our mothers genome and half from our fathers. If you and one of your parents get a DNA test, you’ll know which of them gave you what. Each of our siblings also has a similar proportion, but each has a different mix.

Essentially, our genes are sequences of chemical combinations that are a blueprint to create specific proteins used as the building blocks of our body. However, the genes also have a protein cover that other chemicals open and close in various ways. When sections are exposed, a protein recipe is revealed for replication. When sections 17-19 are exposed, it produces a different protein than when just 17-18 are out.

This distinction is key for understanding epigenetics, the study of external control of DNA expression. It also means our genes are not determinism. Rather, DNA is a blueprint for replicating proteins, but it doesn’t control their expression. It is not our destiny.
Identical twins with matching DNA can have different life and health outcomes. What you do with what you have is more important than what you have.

Bruce talked about the influence of the mothers environment during pregnancy. Is she stressed and in danger? Or is she relaxed and listening to classical music? For the baby to survive in the world to come, it will respond to the levels of stress by developing more muscles or more forebrain. Ayurveda also talks of the importance of nutrition during pregnancy.

In the TED talk below by epigeneticist Moshe Szyf, he speaks of how early life experiences can program gene expression too. In other words, the process continues after birth. Food availability, threats, care, social status, and more can program our response. If food is uncertain, we’re programmed to binge or store it as fat. Yet this adaptation may not serve us well when food is very available. Our programs becomes a maladaption that affects our quality of life and may also affect gene expression.

Scientists tested if they could deprogram the automatic adaption response. In the example case, could they break cocaine addiction? In animal research, they could break the pattern with a single treatment.

While DNA is an old blueprint, gene expression is flexible and adaptive. Gradually, we’re learning how to correct programmed behaviours that are not in our best interest. It’s fascinating to consider.

On YouTube

Backup Updated

February 17, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Software | Leave a comment

I’ve written several articles on computer backup over the years. For example:

Backup That Counts reviewed types and locations of backups

Backup That Works talks about why you want a backup, and why you want to choose the system carefully.

However, many of the programs I’ve recommended have not been upgraded for more recent Windows versions. It’s time for a new article.

For my work computer, I have 3 kinds of backup:
– weekly system image of the boot drive
– daily data backup of changed files – a differential with monthly full, 3 months kept.
backup on save (real time or file sync) of key files or folders from my current projects, with versions.

The first ensures I can recover my system and get up and running quickly. Standard backups don’t work well for restoring operating systems – you want imaging for that. The second ensures I have copies and quick access to everything I’ve worked on or collected. The third makes a copy each time I save the file, ensuring I lose little time if key files are corrupted, deleted in error, or similar. I can get working quickly even if the whole system died.

While I’ve not needed these backups often, they make a huge difference when I do. There are some files that could not be recovered.

While Windows 10 has a backup tool included, I don’t like the approach. It’s hard to check if you don’t know what it’s doing. Other tools I’ve used have become out-of-date or insufficient.

I found maintaining 3 different programs annoying so I ended up migrating to AOMEI Backupper to get the first 2 types of backup. This includes a tool to create a bootable disk so you can access your backup without the software installed, like in moving to a new system. Then after testing, I upgraded to the paid version to get the third, File Sync. The paid version also has some useful tools I wanted. AOMEI has served me well for awhile now.

I’ve not found other tools that combine these techniques. AOMEI isn’t perfect. It’s not always clear what some settings mean. But their web site covers the process for configuring most options. Most importantly, the software has been very reliable. Once it’s set up and scheduled, it’s simply worked.

Talk on Book Publishing

January 5, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Posted in Books, Writing | Leave a comment
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I’ll be speaking at the North Island Writers Conference later this month on a panel discussing bringing your work to the market. See Concept to Completion in Session 2.

NIW_Conference_11x17_poster (Medium)

See the related articles here.
For more info on the conference.

How Many Stars Are There?

October 9, 2017 at 11:28 am | Posted in Science, Space, uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve always enjoyed things that bring perspective on our place in the universe and the nature of space around us. I’ve posted on The Ultra Deep Field, How Our Solar System Actually Moves, Lanikea: Our Home Supercluster, Across the Universe, Quite Enough (on scale), and more.

A new treat: The European Southern Observatory is hosting a Gigapixel image of the Milky Way. You can shift it to full screen if you like. As you zoom and zoom, more and more stars show at every point. You can click and drag the image or use the tools across the bottom. Consider this a photo of our galactic neighborhood. It gives you more of a sense of just how large it is. Many of those points of light have planets.


Clean Disruption: Energy & Transportation

September 28, 2017 at 9:32 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

I recently gave a short talk on the three aspects of new transportation technology that are coming together to change the industry dramatically – even as far as how we get around. Will “driving” and car ownership be only for serious hobbyists?

In this talk, Tony Seba goes much further plus he explores the changes in the energy sector as well. He shows the science behind the changes underway and how some of this is already happening today. For the most part, the changes mean a cleaner environment and lower cost energy and transportation. But there will be a lot of job changes in the process. Key is that the disruption is not driven by technology, it’s driven by economics.

If you’re drafting a 5 year plan, you need to see this.

On YouTube


Book Publishing – Part 2 of 2

August 28, 2017 at 11:35 pm | Posted in Books, Online services, Software, Writing | 5 Comments
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< see Part 1

File Conversion

You’ve now designed your book in a set of files. Your next step is customizing for print and ebook versions. Make a copy of your chapter files in a sub-folder each for print and ebook, without the Book file. For the ebook version, you can drop the Index and pre-title page as they’re irrelevant here. Then create a new Book file for each version. Now you can customize for the final output.

See the Guides links in the Distribution section below to compare requirements with what you’re doing. Distributors require a Contents file and a Cover file for each format that meets specifications. (PDF format for print)

Print Version
Review your files and adjust paragraph breaks to avoid subtitles at the bottom of pages and so forth. Ideally, you want page tops to be even. (you don’t want these customizations in the ebook version)

The files for your cover and your content will be exported into separate PDF’s with fonts.

The print version should ideally be CMYK images to avoid unexpected issues later. If you’ve been working in RGB, update your images to CMYK, copy them into the Print sub-folder and re-link them in the Links panel.

To export the cover, File/ PDF Presets/ Press quality. On Bleed page, select “use Doc bleeds” or it crops them off. On Output, check its set to CMYK (it should be).

To export the book, select all chapters in the Book panel, then Export as PDF, uncheck Spreads.

Check everything thoroughly. Fix and re-export as required.

For both, edit the PDF document properties after to add the title and author. Don’t apply any security. If you don’t have Adobe Acrobat (full version) to do this, you can use the free version of Tracker PDF-XChange Editor. (It’s PDF Reader is much faster than Acrobat Reader)

EBook Versions
Many of the dozen or so early ebook formats have faded out now. The most important are:
.ePub – the open standard format, for Nooks and generic readers but not Kindle.
.mobi – for Amazon Kindle (and the similar .azw)
.pdf – designed for fixed-format printing but almost every computer has a PDF reader.
(comics have their own .cbr and .cbz formats. Other formats.)

The first is what you need for digital book stores. The second for Amazon. The last is best for manually printing a copy, like for your test readers. You can also add security to a PDF but because the pages don’t flow to the device, it’s less flexible for screen reading.

The first two formats are actually a packaged website. The chapters are html files, just like web pages. This is why the text can reflow so easily on any device. Your styles are converted to style-sheets. It uses web tags for formatting and design. There’s a table of contents file, much like a navigation bar. And a file much like a site-map. All of this is wrapped inside the file container, be it on Kindle, Nook, iPad or tablet.

(You can take your Word files and ‘save as a web page’ and upload that. But Word is full of useless code and you’ve lost control over your layout. Better to get it right first and upload that.)

Images for ebooks should be RGB colour. This means a different version from Print.

From InDesign, in the Book panel you can select the chapters and Export the book to EPUB format directly. (PDF too) That file can then be converted to MOBI.

I’d recommend polishing and testing the EPUB before MOBI conversion as you can’t edit a MOBI file very easily. (Amazon gives instructions, but it’s not as straightforward)

Editing, tweaking, and converting your ebooks can be done with free software. If you have a little familiarity with web design, you’ll find the required fixes straightforward.

Calibre is the most popular editor for ebooks and includes a library & converter, a good reader and an edit program. The Manual. Converting requires adding the book to its library first (it makes a copy). When you convert, it will overwrite the previous converted version without warning. It also adds the cover once one is assigned, even if you don’t want it to.

(Alpha Ebooks Manager library software doesn’t copy, reorganize, or change your library, by comparison. But the free version is less useful.)

Sigil is similar to Calibre but has a single interface. I preferred it for editing and got the best results. But Calibre does have the good reader for checking, so I kept it installed.

The EPUB output from InDesign removed the second paragraph break from each paragraph, butting them together. As I didn’t use paragraph indentation, it made it harder to read, so I added them back in.

Ebooks do have their own TOC system but it’s normal to keep the table of contents pages anyway. As the page numbers are gone, you may need to remove the contents page links but you can relink to chapter files instead. You have to add page anchors to link to subsections.

Once you have the file polished, check it meets the EPUB standard. You can use the on-line epubcheck Validator. They also have a downloadable version but it requires Java. (I didn’t find the Sigil FlightCrew validator plugin as useful.)

There will be issues. This often requires tweaking the HTML code. For example, the conversion naturally broke the table of contents links, mentioned above. I also edited the Chapter names in the ebook TOC so they looked better. This is editing the label content, not the file names.

I also needed to add some meta information in the contents file. Use the Metadata Editor to add useful tags and enter your title, author, and so forth. For the ISBN, remember you must do a different version for the MOBI conversion as it has a different ISBN.

I also had to reposition many of the images.

Once it checks out and is polished, it’s time for the MOBI conversion. Amazon has a strong preference for their KindleGen software for converting EPUB to MOBI. This also adds “Enhanced Typesetting.” However, KindleGen is a command line tool. This gets annoying when you have to do a bunch of tests to fix issues. You can get software that adds a GUI, but I got the best results by using the KindleGen plugin in Sigil.

There is also an EPUB3 plugin that upconverts the EPUB2 you’ve been working with from InDesign. IngramSpark wants EPUB3.

Sigil has numerous other plugins too.

You’ll want to install a few software ereaders to test your files. And try them on any electronic readers you have (called side-loading). Some of the independent software doesn’t translate the formatting well, which is one reason I like the Calibre reader. It also handles a wide range of formats. Avoid software that takes over and reorganizes your library. It may even convert your ebooks to a proprietary format.

Amazon offers a Kindle Previewer which is your best bet for testing the MOBI files. It will let you know how it’s responding to the file and if it has Enhanced Typesetting. (Their Kindle app is distinct)

Finally, you’ll want a cropped image for the front cover, trimming off the bleed. JPG in RGB is the typical format. You’d also use this on your web site and promotional materials.

For detailed specs to check your files against the supplier requirements, see the Guides links in Publishing below.

Web Design

Your book also needs a web presence on-line so you can be contacted by readers, the press, tell people where to order, etc. If you have a website, it’s simply a matter of adding a page for the book. If the website is unrelated, you can get a domain that points just to the book page inside your site.

If you don’t have a site, you can use a free WordPress.com site (like this one) but can’t use it for commercial purposes. Just information and links, like an on-line brochure. Get a domain for the book too, like mybook.com.

If you want to use the site commercially to promote your book and use it as an information hub, then you’d want a hosted WordPress.org site. For that you need a domain and a WordPress hosting service. WordPress is modular so it massively simplifies designing and adding features to your site. Choose a theme and 90% of the design work is done. Choose a plugin to add features.

As an author, it can be very useful to take up blogging to build an audience for your work and a web presence. A blog is an included option in WordPress sites. You can post articles, announcements, events, gather subscribers, and so forth. Blogs also have a higher profile in search engines than static sites.

Keep in mind that having a Facebook Page or similar is social media, not a web site (see below). Only Facebook users have access or can interact with you there. For your main site, you want an open web platform where you control the content. If you’re active on social media, that doesn’t have to change. But you don’t want to limit access to your book info.

You can set up an estore on your website to sell directly via PayPal or an ecommerce platform. But it’s usually not worth the effort for a book or two as your store is largely invisible compared to something like Amazon. People will be less likely to share their credit card info with a small site too. And having a store means a whole other business, as mentioned in Publishing below. Let your distributors take care of this for you. Far more people will look for and see your book in the big stores than on a small site.


You are the publisher as discussed in ISBN in Part 1. But you don’t want to be the distributor. You’ve been preparing files to upload to a distributor. They then act as your wholesale (bookstores, etc) and retail (Amazon, etc) sales channels.

You’re looking for a Print on Demand (POD) distributor so you don’t have to carry inventory to fulfill sales. Otherwise self-publishing is massively more expensive and a lot more work. Being your own distributor means buying lots of inventory from a printer, taking orders, processing sales, setting up a shipping system, shipping books, dealing with returns, handling delivery problems, and more. Let your distributor take care of all this and save your time and money.

Price (Update)
It’s worth doing a bit of research for comparables and costs before setting your price. If you’re going to offer your book to bookstores, the price has to cover both the cost of printing and the 55% bookstore discount. This is your wholesale price. If you don’t offer the standard discount, they are unlikely to carry it.

Book Type: 250 pages, 6 x 9, paperback
List Price: $20.00
Retail Discount: 55%
Net Price for retailer: (List Price x discount) = $11
Print fee = $5.50
Publisher Compensation = $3.50

For direct sales, it would be Price less Print fee plus the cost per book of Shipping the printed books to you. This is usually your best cut. Sales through a distributor like Amazon would be in between.

For ebooks, note the promotional programs. For example, Amazon KDP is currently pushing a 70% royalty on ebooks if you price it at $9.99 or less (compared to 35% for over that). Lower price, but higher take. As you usually want to offer the same price across all channels, this may influence your price everywhere. Ebooks are often about 60% of the price of print but the above example would make it 50%.

As I noted in ISBN in Part 1, if you’re planning to sell internationally, it’s best not to include the price in the cover barcode or text. Instead it’s set in the sales channel of the distributor (below).


Ingram, a large, established book distributor, bought Lightning Source (POD). They now offer both print and ebook distribution to a huge market via IngramSpark. You’re included in their catalog used by bookstores and libraries.

Amazon owns CreateSpace for POD and offers the KDP program for Kindle ebooks. Amazon is a bit less expensive but Ingram handles wider distribution better. Ingram is preferable to Amazon’s “Expanded Distribution.” Ingram can handle distribution to Amazon too, but because Amazon is the world’s largest bookstore, it’s better to handle them directly.

Ingram, as with most printers, does charge a setup fee for checking and posting your uploaded files (which is refunded if you order 50 books after). Amazon is free. After uploading the files to each supplier, you’ll be able to view results on-line or in downloadable “proofs.” You’ll want to order a print “proof” and have it shipped quickly so you can address any issues prior to your release date. Check it carefully.

Update: Note that the uploading process is different for each company. Ingram has you complete all account and payment info before you can upload books (see their guide below). CreateSpace takes you into uploading much faster, but reminds you to complete account info afterwards. And so on.

You’ll need banking info for the payment sections. Direct deposit is ideal as you’ll get paid faster. The sales have to meet a threshold in each currency before they’ll mail a cheque.  Ingram pays after 90 days, Amazon after 30 but Ingram’s thresholds are lower. They both insist on paying in the currency of your country. As a Canadian, I couldn’t deposit to my US$ account, for example.

After you complete the process on Createspace, they do offer to send your files to KDP to add a Kindle version. However, I don’t recommend this approach as you have less control over the results. You already did the conversion and testing above. Ditto with adding a print version to KDP (see below).

If you’ve followed the instructions above, your book files should upload smoothly. But you can expect there to still be bugs. The KDP upload, for example, does an automatic spell check and may find surprises.

Amazon doesn’t charge for uploading new versions either but Ingram does. In either case, new files uploaded have to be re-screened, which can make them unavailable for a day or 2 if the changes are significant… so you do want to minimize the number of re-uploads.

Release Date (Update)
They recommend you allow a month or more between first uploading and your release date. This gives you time to test, fix, reupload, and retest. It also gets your files distributed to the various outlets for pre-sale prior to release.

However, Ingram and KDP allow you to set a release date but Createspace does not. It simply launches the book when you activate the sales channels. This means it shows up for sale in some channels in a day or 2, others a little later, and in Canada, nearly 30 days later. As a Canadian author wanting the print book available on Amazon.ca on the release date, this meant allowing it to be for sale in other markets for a few weeks prior. Clearly, this has been an issue for customers as they essentially apologized when I asked about it.

I find it odd they’ve not addressed this as it puts Createspace out of sync with Amazon sales outlets and KDP. But they each behave as quite distinct companies. If Amazon print is your primary channel, it means you have a rolling release date.

IngramSpark: Guide to Independent Publishing     File Creation Guide (pdf)

Amazon CreateSpace (print POD)
Particularly, you want the PDF submission spec

Amazon Kindle Direct (KDP) (ebooks)

KDP Print Publishing Guidelines (not recommended per below, but here’s the guide)

You’ll notice the many more rules Amazon has due to people trying to game their system. KDP offers tools for doing work on their site but it’s better to use professional tools and test first before uploading. They give you an option to fix your MOBI ebooks though.

You can order prints through KDP but you get fewer options. You can’t order physical proofs or your own copies or (proofs and author copies now available early 2018) drop ship batches to others. But you can set a release date for print books. Here’s a comparison with CreateSpace.

Smashwords is a popular ebook only distributor, but I found IngramSpark covers more bases.

Because of the cost of shipping books, you may also find it valuable to upload to a more local POD or short-run printer, depending on where you’re based. This is not for distribution but simply for your own print orders. You’ll need hard copies to sell at your book launch, to send review copies and gifts, and so forth. Even with setup costs, the savings in shipping and speed can be substantial. It’s worth getting a quote.


Marketing is often anathema for writers. Partly because many authors are introverts but also because it’s a very different skill set. Here’s a site on Marketing for Introverts. And Change The World Marketing, oriented to ethical approaches.

If you know any experts or well-known authors, it’s helpful to have reviews or testimonials for marketing. Maybe they’ll even write your foreword. Asking if they’ll read a pre-published version (after primary editing) helps you get them in advance, perhaps for your books back cover or launch publicity.

Also, be sure to set up an Author page on Amazon. This is a separate step from the above. Head to Author Central to register. Five of the Amazon sites have their own Author Page setup but just US and UK have English buttons and links. Do what you can. They’ll send you links.

On Reviews
Do not respond to on-line customer reviews. These are not like blog or social comments. You can get attacked for this and get swarmed with low reviews. There are also some on-line reader communities you have to be very careful about entering as an author.

Don’t pay for reviews. They’ll get deleted along with anyone Amazon discovers you have a social media connection with.

You can certainly send review copies though. For example, Midwest Book Review. You send them 2 books which they review and resell to support the business. They’re long established.

When you get such reviews, don’t add them as a customer review. These are Editorial reviews. On Amazon, you add them through Author Central (above) or put them in the product description.

Social Media
Having a social media presence is a good idea. This will raise your presence in other communities on-line. Pick a couple of popular platforms. But don’t use them for direct marketing. Social media is just that, for social sharing. Think of it like updating friends, not sending ads. If you’re blogging, an update about your book is fine, but spamming subscribers with advertising can cause a backlash.

Remember that some social media, like Facebook or Pinterest, is a partially closed system. Posting there is for that community, not the web as a whole. Non-users will have limited to no access and cannot interact with you. This is why your open-access website should be the center of your marketing efforts. It should contain direct links to purchase your book, typically through other sites like Amazon. By all means, post updates on Facebook and the like. But you’ll gain the most eyes by posting to your website (blogging) and setting that up to feed other social media automatically. This will tend to attract more people to your website mailing list too.

Your writers group should be able to help you with local book launch and promotion events. Local papers are often good about publishing book launch events from a press release.

Congratulations! Publishing a book is still a remarkable accomplishment.

Do you have any other suggestions that worked for you?

Book Publishing – Part 1 of 2

August 28, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Backup, Books, Design, Online services, Software, Writing | 3 Comments
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Many people have thought about writing a book. A small percent of those ever start. An even smaller percent get it written and a still smaller group try to get it published.

Nowadays, the majority of books are self-published. The average book sells fewer than 100 copies. Most published authors also have ideas that never see the page, half-finished works, and works that never went to publication.

Clearly, writing a book requires determination and passion. Self-publishing adds quite a few other hurdles to the equation. Writing turns out to be just the first step. Getting it out there requires many more steps. You can pay to get professional help for almost all of it (called a vanity press) but is that cost-effective for the market you have?

Some steps require help. But many steps can accomplished with a little learning and free or low-cost resources.

I’ve recently been through this process myself. I’ve attended several publishing workshops and writers groups, heard many presentations by people in the industry, and have been researching the software and documenting my process. Other authors have found the tips valuable, so I thought it would be useful to share some of what I’ve learned.

The first thing to understand is that desktop publishing revolutionized book publishing too. The changes are still coming. How-to-publish books from two years ago are no longer current. You can sell your self-published book internationally through dozens of outlets and even get into the catalogs of traditional distributors for libraries and bookstores.

But to get any real uptake requires you create a professional product. While it’s possible to draft a book in Word, upload that into Amazon as an ebook and offer it to the world, the likelihood of that going anywhere is tiny. That’s like putting a lemonade stand on the street and expecting the money to roll in. You’re competing with thousands of others around the world.

Further, if your audience happens to find your book but cringes at the cover or opening pages, that’ll kill sales, lose you money on bookstore returns, and get bad reviews. Unprofessional work lowers the whole market.

Following is a list of some of the stages of a book project. Each requires different skills and often, different tools. Below, I’ll go into each section and suggest tools and tips that may work for you. This article assumes you’ll be producing print and ebook versions of your book to reach the largest number of international readers. Ebooks alone are easier to prepare but you can’t use that for print. You can down-sample your print design into an ebook though. We’ll design for print, then output print and digital editions.

Note that this is an overview. Many of these topics have entire professions and websites dedicated to them. I’ve added numerous links to more information. The software I suggest is Windows-based, although some of it is available for other platforms.

Interior Design
Cover Design

Part 2:
File Conversion
Web Design


This is a professional project so you need an appropriate place to write, a decent chair, uninterrupted time, and so on.

You’ll want to set up a folder structure on your computer to store your book files in. Just like a filing cabinet. It can be a folder on your desktop but you want to take special care of these files as they’ll contain many hours of work.

If you haven’t already, you also want a backup system. I’ve seen authors loose their entire book in one hiccup. Have an automated backup. Make copies of different versions if you make major changes, like prior to editing. The ideal for creatives is a backup-on-save tool like File Hamster (free after the trial but needs .Net2) or Aomei Backupper Pro. The later has Real-time Sync in the paid version, along with system and data backup tools from the free version.

Its also a solo profession so you’ll find connecting with other writers and sharing tips valuable. Most areas have local writers groups. Just beware of groups where no one is producing work.

There are also on-line groups and sites you may find valuable. Just remember this is networking time, not work.

Finally, if you’re putting in a lot of hours, here’s a site of wellness tips for writers.


Your primary tool for writing is typically a word processor. Many people just use what they have but there are excellent free alternatives that will work with standard formats, including OpenOffice and LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a branch of OpenOffice that has been further along in development. The interface looks much like Word before the ribbon – many prefer that. Both support open standards.

You also have other choices. Inexpensive tools like Scrivener support the overall writing process. Others use clipping tools like Evernote to gather material. Recent versions of Windows include OneNote or it can be installed free. I paste notes into searchable text files

I’ve been writing on-line for a long time so I migrated to using Notepad++. It’s a text editor with spell check. It keeps me focused on the writing and doesn’t add unnecessary code. I’ve used it for long-form writing as well, migrating to LibreOffice when it’s time for formatting and sharing with the editor.

It’s usually best to stay with the flow of writing and leave the editing for later. Get the ideas down, then organize them. Avoid the temptation to format too soon. Lots more polishing is needed before you make it look pretty.

Once you get the content on the page and into some kind of structure, then you can go back over the words and begin smoothing.

Most authors benefit from a little planning, like an outline and structure so they can organize rough chapters and place the content. You may find a writing workshop valuable, perhaps one for your genre. Be forewarned that many publishing workshops are designed as sales fronts for vanity presses. They can still be valuable but only if it isn’t all about their sales channel – if they actually help you structure your book.

Ever notice how Google often finds the same articles on multiple blogs without credit? When you’re charging for a book, you copy at your peril. Plagiarism is easy to check. In fact, some editing tools include plagiarism checkers so you can insure you’re not wording things too much like another source.

Quoting is fine but give valid credit and use valid sources. There are a lot of badly attributed quotes out there, especially for people like Mandela and Einstein. If it doesn’t say where they said it, it’s not a valid source as it can’t be verified. Sites like WikiQuotes can help ensure you’re using legitimate ones.


Once you have a rough draft, you need to formalize the book structure more. Chapters, subsections, footnotes and so forth. Also roughly placing images and tables.

Here’s an article that talks about the front and back parts to plan, especially for non-fiction books.

If you’re not using a word-processor, it’s time to migrate your copy there. Just roughed in layout though – like bolding titles. Detailed formatting and design will be done in other tools after a lot more editing.


This is the step that requires professional help. It’s the step that will give your book a professional polish and readability. Even professional editors will hire another editor for their own writing.

However, before you head to an editor, you can save a great deal by first using one of the better editing tools like ProWritingAid. Then you’re not paying someone to fix your basic typos and glitches. ProWritingAid has a free on-line tool you can try but for a book-sized project, you’ll want more. They have several options including a Word plugin and a stand-along program. To give you a sense of how thorough it is, the tool has 25 reports. As you get to know it, you’ll find your writing has typical weaknesses best addressed with certain reports. For example, if you’re prone to over-use words or use clichés, use those reports. But if not, you might skip them.

One author wrote that she uses EditMinion, a free online tool, first. Then she uses ProWritingAid.

With that level of polish, you’re ready for a professional editor. Hopefully what you need is line and copy editing and not a rewrite. (there are many types of editing)

Your best source for an editor can be other authors recommendations. I’ve seen people without even an English degree let alone experience put up an editor shingle as a work-at-home project. Don’t shortcut. You can also solicit bids from sites like Reedsy.

Typically, you’ll send a sample and they’ll let you know how much work it needs. Then you’ll have an estimate of cost and time. The editors I’ve worked with requested Word docs, turned on Edit/ Track Changes, and marked up the files. You can then accept or reject their recommendations. Much easier than retyping although some of that will be called for too.

Be prepared for lots of changes. The object here is clear communication, not saving your little gems. A good editor fixes issues with clarity, grammar, and flow. They don’t change your voice or influence your story (unless it needs a reworking). If they do, look elsewhere. This is your book, not theirs.

If you’re making use of real-world or historical facts, this is a good time to verify your sources.

If you’re writing non-fiction, you also want to be building a Bibliography and references. Here’s an easy, free on-line citation generator for your Bibliography. (choose the style you want: Chicago, APA, etc) Just copy and paste them in alphabetically.

Once the whole thing is put together, it’s useful to have a few readers go over the text to make sure everything is clear to them. You want to be sure readers don’t get lost or stuck somewhere.

Then you run the entirety through a final proofreading aka a re-edit. Resist the urge to tweak the text after this stage as you can add new errors. Consider the content done.


Every published book and every format of that book (soft cover, hard cover, epub, kindle, pdf, etc.) requires its own ISBN number. It will be on your printed back cover, your Copyright page, and on the book sales web page.

While you can pay for ISBN’s when uploading through Amazon and other distributors, that will tie your book to them as the “publisher.” You may have to get a new ISBN for other outlets. This will split up your sales data and lower your books presence and thus sales.

A similar thing will happen if your book is later picked up by a publisher but in that case, you’d only migrate to the lower take of a publishing deal if there are expectations of higher sales. As a publisher would normally re-edit and design a new cover, it would be a new edition, anyway.

Your better bet in self-publishing is to create an “imprint.” Essentially you make up the name of a publishing entity that represents your books and ties into your “brand.” Then you order your own ISBN numbers under this. This becomes your “publishing company.” (some charge for this tidbit) Mine, for example, is Davidya Publishing. If there’s tax advantages, you can formalize the company later. In the US, the government farmed out the sale of ISBN’s through Bowker. In Canada, you can get ISBN’s from the government for free. For other countries just search “ISBN CountryName.” Each varies.

With your ISBN, you’re ready to design your book. You can start the book design before getting your ISBN but you’ll need it for the print cover.

Interior Design

Your first decision before you begin design is to choose a book size. Unless you have a great reason, I’d strongly recommend a standard size.

Most recommend you get a book designer to design your book professionally. Interior Design is the look of the inside of your book – the fonts, headings, icons, page numbering, spacing, gutter, and so forth. This may seem simple but a poorly designed book is harder to read and will turn people off. Your book is not a school essay but a product you’ll be offering for sale. Does it look like it’s a commercial product?

You can ask other authors for recommendations or get bids for a book designer at 99designs.

If you have design skills and you’re going to tackle your own design, take a look at how others have designed their books, especially in your genre. Even if you do plan to hire a pro, you may find reading this over will help you understand what you’ll need from them.

Several experienced authors strongly recommended Adobe InDesign, saying it was worth the cost and learning curve long term. I’m happy I took their advice. You don’t need the latest version but your printers are set up to work with InDesign output. Consider the cost relative to a designer over several books. You’ll also be using it for the Cover design, if you’re tackling that too. It has a learning curve, but that’s easier if you’ve used other Adobe products like PhotoShop or InDesign’s predecessor PageMaker. And there’s lots of on-line help.

A free alternative that runs on many platforms is Scribus. I understand there can be some problems with uploading its output to printers but that these can be fixed in Acrobat. But if you need Acrobat, why not just get InDesign?

In InDesign, create a file for each section and chapter (don’t skip this), copy the content from your polished work into the files, then assemble the files as a Book. For chapter file names, start them with numbers to help organize them and avoid spaces in the file names – this will cause a hassle later in ebook world.

Also recognize that a bound book has specific layout requirements. You want to start right.

Choose your fonts. Make sure you can use the fonts commercially. Some downloaded fonts don’t authorize commercial use, for example.

Remember your basic design principles:
– fonts and other design elements should be the same or different, not similar. Similar looks like a mistake.
– traditionally, body text is serif fonts while titles are sans serif.
– make sure the cover is legible. It won’t help you if the title is hard to read or can be misread.
– paragraphs can be indented or not. You don’t need double spaces after a period. (these are old typewriter rules)

Set up pagination. File/ Document Setup to adjust. Usually all chapters will be an even number of pages to ensure new chapters start on the right side.

Design one of the early chapters first as a design template, adding the styles for titles, sub-sections, quotes, paragraphs, footnotes, etc.. Then set this file as the default Style Source (left side of the Book list) and copy the styles out to the other chapters. You may also want to edit the default paragraph in InDesign, or replace it in each file. Then you just go through your text and apply the styles.

Images should be at least 300 dpi so they print clearly. Only use images you have the rights to and give credit in the book. Again, you’re selling the product so using others work without rights is theft. You don’t want your distributor to delete your book due to a complaint.

Here’s a few articles that go over setting up your book in InDesign. Once you get the basics working, it comes together quickly.

One weakness of InDesign is it does footnotes but not endnotes. If you want endnotes, set footnotes then convert them to end-of-chapter notes or end-of-book notes. I used these scripts. You can rerun scripts to update changes but it’s easiest to do this once when the content is stable.

You’re also adding the opening and closing sections like the title and copyright page, dedication, index and so on. (see link in Layout above) InDesign has a tool for creating an Index from words you mark. (see the Index panel) It will also create a Table of Contents (TOC) from the titles and sub-sections you’ve styled. You can also use the table of contents tool to create a list of illustrations or tables in a similar way. Style the related text appropriately and distinctly, then use that to structure your TOC.

You had to polish every bit of text over and over. Now you have to polish every bit of the design over and over. Random things that happened during writing and editing can create little layout bugs. Like having two line breaks instead of one hard return can create different spacing. There will be things that are hard to find in InDesign. A quick search on-line usually finds the solution.

When you output the ebook version later, it will strip some of this formatting for you, like page numbers. They’re of no use when the text reflows to the device screen size. But you must be fussy about this step for the print version.

For the final print version, you’ll want to be adding some custom spacing to ensure subtitles are not at the bottom of pages and so forth. But leave these edits out for now as you don’t want to mess up your ebook version.

Cover Design

This is the #2 place where professional help is most recommended. Your cover design will determine if someone even looks at your book. If it screams amateur, they’ll assume the content is too. (Yes, people judge a book by its cover.)

Sure, you can auto-generate a cover in Calibre (in Part 2) using your ebooks metadata but it looks the part. You can also create a cover in CreateSpace for Amazon. But again, generic parts make for a generic look.

As above, you can use 99Designs to find a cover designer or talk with fellow authors for recommendations. Some designers will do both interior and cover at a slightly reduced rate. If you’re doing an ebook as well, you’ll also want the digital front cover. 99Designs also has a deal for IngramSpark customers.

If you happen to have graphic design skills, you can study how professional book covers are designed in your genre, then use design software of your choice. But note that the output of that software is what you’ll be uploading to the printers. They’ll reject files that don’t meet professional standards. They don’t accept JPGs for print, for example. Again, InDesign is recommended.

Remember that the cover will be printed so the colours have to be in the CMYK gamut or your cover can look quite different printed than you expected.

Again, use at least 300 dpi images and only use images you have the rights to and give credit in the book.

In the distribution section, I’ll be recommending you upload directly to Amazon as it’s the largest bookstore in the world. And I’ll recommend you upload to Ingram to get in their catalog plus get distribution through the worlds other ebook stores. This covers most everyone else including libraries and bookstores.

To build your cover correctly, you need a template set to the right size – both the cover size and the spine. The spine is determined by the number of pages. Your print book cover will be printed as a “spread” of the front, spine and back so everything has to be exactly the right size.

You also have to build the cover with “bleed.” This means having extra image around all the edges so the cutting of the cover doesn’t leave any unprinted trim. Usually .125″ on all sides but your printer may vary this.

While there are formulas for calculating all this, it’s easier to download templates from the suppliers. Ingrams will include your ISBN barcode too. If you plan to sell your print book internationally, I’d recommend not including the price in the barcode. It will be set in the particular sales channel.

Again, the print cover will be CMYK and the ebook cover is RGB. But it’s easier to stick with one version until you get to the conversion stage.

Getting an IngramSpark template

CreateSpace (Amazon) template

This completes the Design phase of your books production.

In Part 2 on ForNow, we’ll convert the book to the final formats and prepare the book for uploading and distribution.


DNA testing – Part 3 – Follow-up

June 5, 2017 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Health, History, Online services, Science | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve written before on DNA testing. In the first article in 2015, I compared the 4 prominent services for personal DNA testing. I chose 23andme. I then reported the broader results. Now I have some updates to that discussion.

It’s turned out the Y chromosome has had a lot more mutation than the maternal line so they had to update the haplogroup naming conventions last year. The original paternal haplogroup name is no longer current and the tree more complex. In my case, the guys wandered further too.

A few terms for the major testing:
Autosomal is the 22 pairs of chromosomes in the cells nucleus, excluding the pair of sex chromosomes. It’s the broad overview and allows you to match to other family members, etc.

Y-DNA is the Y or male sex chromosome. It traces your male line back: fathers, fathers, father, etc. You need to be a male or have a male member of the family tested for this one.

mtDNA – mitochondrial DNA comes from the mitochondria. It is passed down from mothers to both sons and daughters. It traces the mothers line back: mothers, mothers, mothers, etc.

Haplogroup – those that share a common ancestor based on haplotypes, groups of genes inherited from a single parent. We all have a paternal and maternal haplogroup. Haplogroups can be viewed in a tree structure of sequential mutations.

They can trace these 2 lines back roughly 100,000 years now for well-tested populations.

Skip forward 2 years and 23andMe has finally upgraded my data to their new site format as promised. For a while, they were offering health results only to Canada and the UK due to US restrictions on “diagnosis.” With the site redesign, they’ve removed a lot of the more detailed health analysis and focus now on general markers like lactose intolerance, sleep depth, and so forth. Gone are more diagnostic things like Celiac and Parkinson’s markers.

Reporting is more centralized and distributed to tabs to support smaller screens. It surprised me to discover printing the reports (for me to PDF) gave a more complete view.

A new report on the Maternal line (haplogroups) goes back as far as the National Geographic’s “Deep Ancestry” report (below) although the second has slightly more detail.

The paternal haplogroup name was updated but there’s a gap between the tree map in the paternal section and the specific haplogroup named. As I discovered on FTDNA below, it’s also less specific.

Meantime, I had also decided to take advantage of a sale on National Geographic’s Genographic Project. I wanted to support their work, and it offers more of a deep ancestry approach.

Here a deviation has taken place. Family Tree DNA used to do all their testing, allowing you to load your DNA test results into FTDNA (below) afterwards for free. However, for US customers, Helix is now doing their testing. They’re using a newer system that is not compatible with FTDNA. If you get the Helix test (white box, spit not swab), you can’t download the genome after either.

But as I’m Canadian, I still got the black, cheek swab kit to send to FTDNA in Texas.

My first impression of the Genographic results wasn’t positive – they didn’t notify me when the results were up. And the first presented report is “Genius” matches. It displayed famous people (not geniuses) who had some unmentioned genetic match. Essentially a pointless report.

The Regional Ancestry report had quite different percents from 23andMe but I suspect was less accurate due to the much smaller testing population.

What I did enjoy was the Deep Ancestry reports. This showed the maternal and paternal lines over thousands of years, migrating across vast distances as the ages changed.

There is also a Hominin report for the percent of Neanderthal DNA. This varied substantially from the 23andMe result as well.

Another disappointment was printing. The reports didn’t print well and the official printable report that summarized much of the above was missing all the maps even though the reports refer to them. I had to use screen captures for the maps and assemble them with the reports myself.

Given that 23andMe now includes very similar reports and has a great deal more other ones, it’s certainly preferable. It’s possible the Helix testing for Americans offers more reports or detail but that’s unclear. I suspect 23andMe would still be superior.

Family Tree DNA
Because I got the old Genographic kit, I could transfer the results to Family Tree DNA for free. This allowed downloading the Genome file and offered a few basic reports.

One of note though was the Y-DNA haplotree. This went much further than 23andMe, offering a Haplogroup that was 15 steps more detailed. And there they offered a further test (at a cost) to take it a few steps further.

From this, I discovered the links between the 23andMe paternal map and their designation of my haplogroup plus further steps that FTDNA named.

One of the bigger differences with FTDNA is their a la carte approach to ordering tests. You send in or transfer one sample and then pay just for the tests you want when you want them. Where the others above include autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA, FTDNA lets you choose. Y-DNA is of no use for women, for example, as they don’t have the Y chromosome.

You can also choose the degree of testing for the mt and Y reports. If you’re a male and test all 3 at the basic level, it will cost you more than these others. But for serious researchers, there is a level of detail available you don’t see in the one-size services.

The site has many “projects” where members discuss details of their research. The one’s I looked at required the Y67 test to join as they were specific to certain haplogroups.

FTDNA offered me a significant autosomal discount, so I ordered the Family Finder test to connect with a few relatives on the system. This gave me the Matches section and Chromosome browser, similar to what 23andMe has. The Origins reports where too general to be of much use. They did not match known family regions either.

Also note they’re using the oldest technology now.

I’d still recommend 23andMe for the overview. Their reports are broader and bring a more complete perspective. They use newer tech and have a larger customer base which increases accuracy and matches.

Family Tree DNA is superior if you want to explore genealogy in greater detail. They have more detailed test options but use older tech and are more expensive. Just understanding the value of their options requires a serious exploration.

National Geographic Genographic Project loses much of it’s advantage as others begin to include deep ancestry reporting. With their migration to the newer tech, it can’t be uploaded to FTDNA nor the genome downloaded for other services.

Ancestry also includes a DNA testing service but this would only be helpful if you use their services already. The family tree building software is sophisticated but is an ongoing expense.

From some of the commentary I’ve read on-line, serious researchers use several of the services for different features and to connect with different populations. As the number tested grows, the detail levels will increase. Added features will make going back in and taking a look around again useful, even for the casually curious.

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