New covers for two of my books

After a good deal of thought, I decided to change my covers for The Money Tree and Ang Tak. I felt the existing versions were rather static, and in the highly competitive world of book publishing and sales, they didn’t seem to grab the reader’s attention.

angtak214Here are the old and new versions for Ang Tak. Instead at2016-214of the azaleas of Augusta National, the new version uses the Himalayas as a backdrop, and the lightning mirrors the posture of the golfer. To counterbalance this change from the rather genteel original cover to a more moody version, I’ve revised the book description to reflect the arc of the narrator’s story.

FYI, Ang Tak will be a Goodreads Giveaway in the two weeks leading up to the Masters, starting March 28. Feel free to sign up!

mt-214 front-421As for The Money Tree, I wanted a cover that suggests the action and danger of the story. I’d have liked to picture the entire family on the cover, but it would probably lose focus that way, so we (Ivan Zanchetta was the designer) decided to focus on Jane, who is the enabler of the family, despite her dislike of the trees.

This too, will be a Goodreads Giveaway, starting March 21.

Pardon my mistake

During the course of researching multiple pronunciations of common words (tomayto vs tomahto) I discovered a slightly different category: words we (or many of us) often mispronounce. In other words, while tomayto/tomahto may be optional, depending on where you live, some pronunciations are just plain wrong.

I’m as guilty as the next person on some of these, so I thought I’d reproduce them here.

Arctic NOT artic. There’s a “c” in the middle as well as at the end.4-P200

Diphtheria. Most of us say “dip-theria” and it’s now so widespread it’s considered acceptable. But the original pronunciation was difftheria.

Espresso NOT expresso.

February NOT Febyuary

Forte NOT fortay. Interesting, this. In music it’s “fortay,” from the Italian. But in the sense of a strength (e.g., “math is my strong suit”), it’s “fort,” from the French, where the “e” is silent. Apparently, the two meanings are so widespread both are considered acceptable. This is just as well: I’ve been wrong all my life and I’m not in the mood to change now.

Jewelry NOT jew-lery. Say Jewel. Now add “ry”.

Mischievous NOT mischievous or mischievious. There’s only one “i”.

Nu-clear NOT nu-cul-ar

Supposedly NOT supposably.

Wimbledon NOT Wimbleton. This mispronunciation seems to be less prevalent among North Americans than it used to be, thank goodness.  There’s no T in Wimbledon!

It beats me how immigrants manage to master the English language. I’ve been at it all my life and I still can’t spell concensus. Concencus. Whatever.




Image Quality in Print

I’ve produced five books as a self-published author. It was natural for me to do my own layouts since I used to work in publishing and I’m familiar with the conventions used in formatting books.

I’d like to say I use one of the high-end programs—InDesign or Quark—but I don’t. Like a lot of writers, I allocate the lion’s share of my budget to editing and cover design, so book formatting gets done low budget: by me, using Word.

For my earlier books, I learned how to get the best out of Word—how to overcome its production deficiencies and make it lay out text in a way that isn’t visually unpleasing. Tepid praise, I know, but Word can’t provide the options found in dedicated production software like InDesign. However, it has the settings to do an adequate job.

For my fifth book, however, I ran into a brick wall. Because this one, unlike the 3-littleEpreceding four, contains images (it’s a book for children). Here’s one of them.

Looks fine, doesn’t it? That’s because you’re viewing it in a browser, where image resolution is much lower than it is in print production. I had no idea of these distinctions until recently. I’ve worked extensively with images for the web, both photos and line art, but in my print projects, professional designers always took care of the graphic element. It struck me that there may be others out there with the same blind spot, so in this article, I’m going to lay out the steps to ensure that your images conform to the much-higher specification for printing.

Checking the Resolution

First things first. When I uploaded my original pdf to CreateSpace, their report said “some of the images” (in fact, all of them, as it turned out) were of lower resolution, but that I could still go ahead and print. So I ordered a draft copy and took a look. The drawings were indeed tolerable, but didn’t evoke much satisfaction. I wanted a crisper, sharper look.

It turned out that my images were only 120 dpi. For good-quality print production, you really want a resolution of 300 dots per inch. So before you knock yourself out trying to make Word behave in a civilized manner, make sure your images are of sufficient quality to begin with.

There’s a simple way to check this. Right-click any image and select Open with Paint. Under Image in the Paint toolbar, select Attributes and you’ll see the resolution expressed as dots per inch. If it’s less than 300 dpi you could rescan the image, find a higher quality copy, or choose to live with it. Regardless of what you decide, knowing your resolution to begin with (as I should have but didn’t) will tell you part of the reason why your pictures aren’t coming out as crisp in print as they are online or in your e-book.

(Preparing e-books with illustrations holds a different set of headaches. You’ll find a comprehensive guide to e-book production here.)

The “Save As” Feature

Word allows you to save a file in almost any format. For example, I save my book as an .odt file for e-book formatting. This is the Open Office extension, which produces a cleaner file for e-book production.

To avoid crushing your images, you want to use the .doc format. This has been supplanted by the default .docx extension in all versions of Word since 2007 or earlier, but for book formatting purposes and particularly if your book contains images, .doc still works best, because it allows you to turn off compression. Here’s how.

Hit File/Save As, and select the .doc extension from the dropdown list. Next, click on the Tools button at the bottom of the menu page, beside the Save button.

  • Select Compress Pictures.
  • Uncheck the box that says Apply Compression Settings Now.
  • Click on Options
  • Uncheck the top box, Automatically Perform Basic Compression on Save.
  • Hit Okay, Okay again, and Save.

Just for purposes of comparison, you might want to make a note of your file size, or work with a separate copy of your manuscript so that you can compare the file size before and after you complete the steps below. If you’ve been successful, you’ll have a larger file because of your soon-to-be-uncompressed pictures.

Insert Images

When you add an image, make sure to import it using the Insert/Picture option (rather than copying and pasting). Resize and format as necessary. When you’ve finished adding images and your pages are laid out to your satisfaction, you’re ready for the next step.

I’ve tried this step when I begin importing pictures and when I’ve finished. It seems to “take” better when I do it last. So: when your pictures are in place in your manuscript, select any one of them. Right-click, select Format and then click on the Compress button or tab.

  • Under Apply To, select All Pictures
  • Under Change Resolution, select No Change
  • Under Options, uncheck Compress Picture

When you save out of this step, you may well almost feel the file expand, and when you save the document you should find it is significantly larger than before. You can compare it with the earlier saved version, to see if this is so. Incidentally, if you repeat the above procedure with any of your pictures, the settings won’t seem to have been saved. But they were.

(If you’re publishing a book through CreateSpace, take advantage of their forums. They cover all aspects of book production and marketing and I found them really helpful when I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.)

Create a PDF

Your last step in preparing for publishing is to create a pdf. If you have Acrobat you’ll be fine. If you don’t, I recommend the free program doPDF. It will allow you to specify a 300 dpi image resolution and you can also embed your document’s fonts, an essential part of the process. I’ve submitted doPDF output to both CreateSpace and LightningSource. I believe IngramSpark still expects the pdf/x-1a format, which requires Acrobat.

These steps should result in a good-quality print output. I’d be interested to hear your own experience.



Cruising Along

cheesecakeThe night before my interview with Pastry Chef Vinay Myakal, White Chocolate Cheesecake appeared on the menu at dinner. Of course I chose it—indeed, in view of my interview I felt it my duty to eat both this featured dessert as well as a second, different, offering just to be absolutely sure the quality was no aberration. Perhaps I was unduly skeptical, since this was the seventh night of our cruise, but I felt a duty to be thorough.

Vinay and I met in the International Café at 10am the following morning and I asked him how many of the cheesecakes he and his staff had made. 1650. I had a mental hiccup at this picture.  Some 3500 people were cruising, so Vinay must have reckoned nearly half of them would choose the cheesecake.

The production process lasts three days, I learned. They start by making the base (all sixteen hundred and fifty of them), then add the cheesecake. Glazing and finishing work is done the afternoon before dinner.

Vinay has 17 people working in his department, four of them at night. Pastry-making is a 24/7 operation and they turn out ten to twelve thousand pastries a day, storing them on trolleys in their fridges. They can do wedding cakes with a bit of notice and they always provide birthday cakes to order, baked fresh. They seem to go out of their way to find an excuse to cook, since I was awarded a cake even though my birthday was a week before the cruise.

If I had my life to live over, I might conceivably become a pastry chef. Thanks, Vinay, for some truly delectable sensations.

Discouraging Volunteers

Libraries are always in need of more money, and volunteers who get together to raise funds on their behalf are known as Friends of the Library. In my town, the Friends have raised more than $120,000 for our libraries during the last 25 years.

There are Friends organizations across Canada and the US, but they are mostly unconnected. Each has its own approach to fundraisingbooksale. Our two big annual events are a puzzle sale in the early spring and a quiz night in the fall. Those aside, we have ongoing book sales and a range of other activities to raise money. Almost all our events are held in the main library itself.

The funds we raise go to buy furniture and equipment, special books and other needs, and our libraries (we serve three) have always been appreciative.

Until last year. Then, at the urging of their insurer, our library system informed us our members must submit to police background checks and fingerprinting or we would not be covered in the event of an accident or lawsuit. In other words, if a member of the public hurt his or her back while picking up a puzzle, we would be liable. Likewise, if someone swallowed a pencil during Quiz Night.

Now, my first reaction to this was, Who would think of doing such a thing? Who would be so churlish as to sue one or all of a group of well-meaning volunteers? But that’s not the right reaction these days. Such people do exist and our members, many of whom are retired, were unamused at the prospect of being put at risk by their voluntarism.

The library subsequently removed its demand for background checks and fingerprinting—but also said it couldn’t afford to insure us. Casting about for a way out of this dilemma (while thinking black thoughts about those who bite the hand that feeds them) we hit on a solution: we could become a society and purchase our own insurance. This would cost about $500 annually, money that would otherwise have gone to the library.

It would also require time and effort on the part of our executive committee. There are legal implications and obligations to becoming a society, and questions to be answered before we can make a decision, and so we have had to cancel our normal summer fund-raisers until these matters can be resolved.

Which brings me to my question: Why would anyone want to discourage free help? It’s hard tvolunteero find a downside to people volunteering their time and energy free of charge to help the organization of their choice. It’s good for the organization, good for the volunteers and good for society. Volunteers help keep down costs and enable entities to spend money elsewhere.

When society makes it hard for people to volunteer their time, we all lose. It’s immaterial who puts up the impediments: unions or management, insurers or government bureaucrats. By discouraging the natural and healthy impulse to donate our time and energy to good causes, they are robbing our communities and our society.

As to our Friends organization, I’m sure we’ll figure out something to do. But we’ve already had to expend time and energy on these completely unproductive side issues just so that we can go back to doing what we wanted to do in the first place: raise money to help out the library.

Return to Kaitlin: Goodreads Giveway

I had a lot of fun with a giveaway for my last book, The Money Tree. This time, the contest runs until publication day, after which ten lucky readers will receive a free copy. Sign up on Goodreads.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Return to Kaitlin by Helen Yeomans

Return to Kaitlin

by Helen Yeomans

Giveaway ends June 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Return to Kaitlin: ready for review

With publication day coming up (way too fast, if you ask me) on June 15, I’ve been busy mailing out advance copies and ebooks of Return to Kaitlin. I’m hoping to gain reviews in newspapers and industry magazines, on GoodReads, and also on book-review blogs.

After publication day, reviews can also appear on the retailer sites like Amazon, B&N, Indigo, etc.

Here’s the Factsheet on Return to Kaitlin. If you’re interested in reviewing my new novel, please email me at: info (at) Hoping to hear from you soon 🙂

Whose Land Is It, Anyway?

A few years ago, I needed a filler job to pay the bills, so I hired on at a local customer service call centre. I was assigned to a contract for Highly Personal printers. My job was to help people who phoned in with problems or questions about their printers.

One day I took a call from a woman in the Bronx, Vera by name. Vera was Jewish, she told me, and wrote and produced a newsletter for Kurds.

The Middle East
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Kurds. They were never given any land of their own, back in the early 20th century when Europeans were dividing up the Middle East. The Kurds were pushed from pillar to post, but they never stopped trying for a peaceful settlement with Iraq, or Iran or Turkey or Syria, or whomever. And Vera wrote a newsletter about this and about the people.

We had a good chat about the Kurds, and after we had put in Vera’s order for a replacement printer and were waiting for the confirmation and shipping details, I asked if I could ask her a question. Sure, she said (actually, “shuah”—she’s from the Bronx).

“So . . . what do you think about Israel, Vera? I mean, is that a good thing?” I’d never been able to decide if carving out a Jewish state in the Middle East was wise, even if it was eminently understandable in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Vera was silent for a bit. “You know,” she said at last, “every square foot of land on earth was owned by someone else at one time or another.”

The confirmation for her printer shipment came through at that point, so we said goodbye soon after. But I’ve often reflected on that observation, and it resonates whenever I re-read one of my favorite books, John MacNab.

I revisit this novel every few years, usually in August, the time of year in which the story takes place. It’s a light read and highly entertaining. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it because it’s set in Scotland and because I’ve been stalking there, so I know how hard that pastime is.

The story was written by John Buchan of Thirty-Nine Steps fame. It is one of his lesser-known books, a delightful tale of three eminent gentlemen who decide to turn to poaching to relieve their boredom. To up the ante slightly, they inform the owners of the three estates chosen for their depredations that John MacNab will collect a stag or a salmon from the estate between certain specified dates, thus assuring themselves of a warm welcome.

In short, John MacNab is Buchan’s way of exploring land rights. One of the substories concerns the discovery of ancient Norse ruins on one of the estates, ruins indicating that a thousand years earlier the land was owned and occupied by one Harald Blacktooth. In another substory a young woman tells her young man that no one should have the right to just sit on their property collecting rents; that ownership must be justified, not once but regularly, so that no owner can take his property for granted.

Buchan was Governor General of Canada during the thirties, and I sometimes wonder what his views on Indian land rights might have been. This is a subject that may underpin a sequel to my new book Return to Kaitlin, so I’ve been researching the question over the past few weeks. More on the subject down the road.


Living Dangerously

“It’s against regulations.” The phrase is everywhere these days.

When four boxes of books arrived from my printer, the delivery driver backed his vehicle up to the garage but would not carry the books inside. “It’s against regulations,” he said.

I bent to lift a box while he stood flatfooted at the entrance to the garage and watched. It turns out regulations now forbid delivery operators, haulers and other shippers from carrying anything across the threshold.

Where you stand on this depends on your liking for government regulation. For my part, I’d much rather see the problem of on-the-job injury tackled company by company or even industry by industry. That way, we might see one sector or business leapfrog another with different techniques or solutions. Instead, we have a blanket rule imposed on all businesses. As far as I can see, this permits no latitude to the business and allows no room for individual judgement by the driver.

Exercising your judgement is part of what enables you to grow as an individual. Does it overstate the problem to suggest that excessive regulation stunts personal growth? I don’t think so. But these days flouting the regulations means you’re living dangerously, in more ways than one.



What Day Is It?

It must be Sunday, because New Year’s Day, like Christmas Day, always falls on a Sunday. That at least is what happens with the Hanke-Henry calendar, a proposed replacement for the Gregorian calendar (the one we know and love).

The Hanke-Henry has eight months of 30 days and another four of 31, for a total of 264 days in the year. “It stays exactly the same year after year” is the slogan. Sounds like the kiss of death to me.

The calendar then throws out a caveat: every few years we’ll get an extra week, just to stop winter becoming summer, I guess. So how would that work? An extra week’s holiday? An extra week’s work/pay? It would happen every five or six years: a leap-week year. Would it happen in winter or summer? Tacked on to the end of a month, so that you get married (or divorced or born, for that matter) on, say, December 38th?

Adopting this calendar in place of the Gregorian could save the world billions and billions in annual updates and reprintings because it never changes. Would we die of boredom in the meantime?

Under the Hanke-Henry, my birthday would always be on a Friday. I’m fine with that. But Halloween would fall on a Monday, unless parents united to push for Saturday the 28th, which seems wrong somehow. As for July 1, Canada Day would fall on a Sunday, making Monday an annual holiday. But July the 4th? That would fall on a Wednesday and I can’t see the Americans buying that. Wednesday doesn’t lend itself to a holiday. You can’t bleed it into a Saturday; it sits, stark,  isolated and unloved, in the middle of the week.

Maybe Wednesday could fall on Sundays instead. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of this dotty 24-hour day. Time to go metric: 100 seconds/minute; 100 minutes/hour; 100 hours/day.

According to my calculations, that makes me 32. Now that I could get behind.

happy new year

(Happy Sunday, too).