MEET APRIL STEENBURGH: Author & Pro Formatter
Meet our new friend April Steenburgh! April has submerged herself in the world of all things bookish … She’s a librarian, a writer, a reader, and a kick-a** formatter. We thought all of you aspiring and self-published authors out there might want to learn a bit more about the formatting process, so we sat down with April to bring you the details.
GG: Tell us a little about yourself…what you do etc…
April: I was a book store manager for a good number of years, from there I ended up in library school and now as a librarian. Somewhere in the middle I started writing and working with authors for technical assistance, which has evolved to being pretty handy with eBooks and eBook formatting. I currently work with my friend/coeditor Christy on putting together and publishing anthologies. I also spend a glorious amount of time reading and reviewing books. I maintain a professional blog, a review blog, a Goodreads page, and the Kickstarter landing page for our current project.
Not related to books/writing, I founded and run a 501(c)3 Animal rescue, teach daily digital literacy courses at the local public library, provide reference services at the local community college, and spend a lot of time helping community members learn how to use their eReaders and tablets. I share space with a small army of rescue ferrets, a demanding trio of cats, some snakes, and there is a red tail hawk on my back porch. I can always be reached at [email protected] or by visiting my Facebook.
GG: So, what lead you to compiling anthologies?
April: As a reader, I turn to anthologies to get to know new authors. An anthology has always been my preferred way to get a taste for an author, and I love finding someone I might never have had the pleasure of discovering otherwise had I not picked up an anthology. They are also just a lot of fun- a bunch of authors excited about the same idea, infusing it with their own perspective and life.
As a writer/editor/publisher, anthologies are often that first step into the profession. Selling that first story can be an amazing experience for a new author (I know it was for me!) and I wanted to keep that experience alive and kicking. There will always be anthologies themed off of what the current Big Idea is, but what about all of the amazing and beautiful and strange ideas that fall to the side? Someone should gather up all of those orphan ideas and make them happen.
GG: Would you tell us about your latest project?
April: One of my authors from the last anthology project- Fight Like a Girl– actually pitched the seed of the idea to me a few months after the last project had started to settle down. As Fight Like a Girl emerged from my Co-editor Christy calling me one night with the theme and saying someone should make it a book and my saying ‘Why not!” I thought we might as well continue the trend.
After Christy called, I sat back and thought, hard, about just how many females I grew up reading about and wanting to be like as I grew up with my nose in one massive fantasy novel after another. Not too many. Then I thought about how many talented writers were sharing their work across the internet and I got an idea. I put the call out there, and sat back to see how many people might be interested. We thought it would be hard to get writers interested in participating. We ended up with a collection of 22 stories.
Editing anthologies is an insidious addiction. I don’t know that I will be able to stop.
GG: Is formatting and publishing anthologies different from novels?
April: With novels you are working with one person, one manuscript. With anthologies you have the pleasure of dealing with a baker’s dozen of individual manuscripts, as opposed to one. So the opportunity for formatting adventures is exponentially higher. Authors managing to include strange formatting within their submissions, submitting something not within the formatting guidelines are all things the editor of an independent operation such as ours has to work with. You then have to stitch everything together into a pleasing whole. It is a fine art, and thankfully one I honestly enjoy.
This isn’t to say I have not run into some utterly fascinating formatting issues within a novel. The likelihood just increases the more individuals and computers you involve. But you get to recognize the regular offenders, and gather a toolkit not unlike any mechanic, so you are quite well prepared to beat them into submission. With a smile.
GG: Would you explain/walk us through your “process” from choosing authors to publication?
April: The gloriously fun part is, of course, coming up with a theme, and then reaching out to authors. As we had just finished the Fight Like a Girl project I was able to reach out some of those authors to see if they would be interested in coming to play a second time. One of the main goals of Fight Like a Girl was to get folks their first publication, and to be paid an industry standard amount for their work, so there was a lot of networking involved- friends reaching out to friends and coming together to work at this theme of the feisty, fierce, and multi-dimensional female.
After gathering up people with interest and sorting out the funding for the project (right now we are working on a crowdfunding model for the anthologies though we hope to move from that in the future) we set out a hard timeline for when things need to be done and submitted.
The one thing that needs to be firmly established with an anthology is the format that the submission should be in. Remember I mentioned there is a higher likelihood for formatting adventures when it comes to anthologies? This where they all come from. Having everyone stick to the same, simple submission format does much to alleviate the worst of the formatting shenanigans.
I read stories as they come in, return it to the authors with suggested edits, and when those are all back in, then I begin the work of stitching everything together and creating the table of contents and copyright page. This is also when contracts go to the authors and when checks will go out (the first of the fun parts!).
For eBooks, stitching together involves creating a simple .rtf document out of all the individual stories that can then be formatted into .ePub and .mobi for use on eReader devices. That round of formatting is when the cover for the book and all metadata (author names, editors, etc) are added and what we would all recognize as an eBook emerges.
If we are also creating a print version, Christy makes a .pdf of the book to be sent to the printer we work with so they can create a proof for us to check (and make any necessary changes).
ePubs get uploaded to sites like Barnes and Noble and Kobo. Mobi’s head over to Amazon. And then I usually just sit back and monitor sales compulsively for a few weeks so I can let the authors know how things are going. I am a pretty accessible editor- I like being involved with my authors through the entire process and after if they are interested in that sort of thing as well.
GG: Do you have any advice for new authors and editors that are seeking to publish, in regards to formatting?
April: Simple is a beautiful thing. Keep every manuscript to an .rtf before submitting/sending anywhere if possible. Even a .doc (Microsoft Word default) can have some screwy formatting, and things you would not even think of can cause issues down the road- the most recent example I can think of is simple little text boxes will cause an ePub from validating. Your ePub will look fine, but it will prohibit you from being able to upload and sell it on some sites (the major aggregator Smashwords, for example). It you are worried, try working with a program like Scrivener which exports your manuscript in .rtf for you.
PDFs are lovely for computer reading, but they are horrid, formatting-wise, for eReaders. Most online vendors will reformat a .pdf when you upload it (Amazon, for example, will turn your lovely .pdf into a .mobi) and that reformat will utterly destroy your formatting and in many cases make your eBook impossible to read for anyone who purchases it.
It is a lot of work, but get used to testing your eBook files on multiple devices and computers before putting them up for sale. Run them through a validation program- those programs will catch little bits of formatting you would be hard-pressed to notice and you will have a much more professional looking book as a result.
GG: We’d love to hear more about your current project. Kickstarter, etc….
April: I had a lot of fun with Fight Like a Girl. A lot. It was successful, sales are still successful, my authors had a blast. The bulk of us wanted to do that again, to work with each other going forward. I wanted to keep the drive behind Fight Like a Girl alive, so we have again invited a slew of authors who are unpublished and excited to participate. The current project is titled What Follows.
What Follows has evolved a bit from the initial pitch sent my way by one of the Fight Like a Girl authors, broadened, but the essential core remains. There is plenty of apocalyptic fiction out there. Plenty of stories that look at humans muddling through as best we can. We wanted to take something immortal and dissect just how something essentially endless would deal with that sort of ending. From what I have seen from the submitting authors thus far, I am getting rather excited to put the final book together.
I have an excited group of authors writing away (and I have already gotten some stories submitted!), I have a cover artist set to make us a magnificent cover, and we are working hard at gathering support for the project.
You can check it all out here