Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ebook Formatting

Some time back, it became clear to me that I needed a strong presence in the ebook market. My good working relationship with TouchTomes meant that my novels were being converted into the iPhone App Store marketplace, but I had also stuck my toe into the Kindle arena. But these two high-profile markets were hardly the whole of ebooks. I asked around and listened to some feedback. My problem was how to put my novels in as many markets as possible, with a minimum of reformatting.

Kindle has its own format, and just handing over a PDF or Word copy of the novel wasn't going to produce a good quality ebook. By the time I looked at Kindle for the second book, I saw what appeared to be a solution. They "fully supported" the mobi format. Ah, ha! I'll convert the books into mobi, and then feed both Kindle and other ebook markets with that one copy.

Thus begins the effort to make mobi books.

There is a free Mobi Pocket Creator program that advertised conversion from Microsoft Word. That seemed perfect. I visited the site, and hit my first barrier. These people don't seem to be aware that Mac's exist. The software is Windows only and the marketplace they offered required Internet Explorer 5.5 to work. Yeah, right.

Still, if I had an Intel Mac, I could find a way to run their conversion software. That was just the last push I needed to upgrade my laptop from a G4 to Intel. I twiddled my thumbs until the promised new models arrived and put my order in for a MacBook Pro the day they came out. This was in the middle of our Fall trip so I had to wait until I got home to try it out.

Method One. I would rather not have to buy a copy of Windows, so with high hopes, I bought Crossover. This is a program based on WINE that runs Windows applications without needing Windows. Now, they suggest trying it out before buying, but it was only $39 and I was in a rush, so I bought first. Oops. Yes, it installed the Mobi Pocket Creator in a "bottle" and it ran, but it didn't run well. Not well enough to actually work. I felt stupid, but not defeated.

Method Two. Intel Mac's can run Windows, and with appropriate software, it can run both Windows and OSX at the same time. I went to an online store and purchased Parallels and Windows XP. Twiddle thumbs for a week until they arrive.

A couple of days before FedEx dropped the package at my back door, Parallels released version 4, so I sighed and went through the extra paperwork to order an upgrade almost before I installed it. (The upgrade they gave me had the wrong link, so it's still in progress.)

But finally, I installed and ran Windows. Mobi Pocket Creator installed cleanly. I clicked the link to convert from Microsoft Word, and ... nothing. I guess Microsoft Word means "Windows Microsoft Word". Or maybe they expect Word to be running on Windows? I don't know. But I wasn't about to go buy a whole new copy of Office for this.

So, I attempted their Convert from PDF link. That actually worked. After churning a bit, It converted the PDF I had sent to the printers into an HTML file and images. I looked at the quality of the conversion and it was just so so. There would be a lot of hand fix-up needed before I could use it.

Disgusted with the idea that I had spent a couple of hundred dollars and enriched Microsoft all for nothing, I re-visited the Kindle site and tried their Convert from PDF. Suspiciously, the results were almost identical to that produced by Mobi Pocket Creator. Readable, but ugly.

So for the past day or so I've been looking at ways to fix up the generated HTML. If I could make a good copy with minimal labor, I could feed that back into both Kindle and Mobi and make it work that way.

Cross your fingers for me.

1 comment:

Chris Meadows said...

Kindle format actually is Mobipocket format in disguise. Amazon owns Mobipocket. (And is apparently preventing Mobipocket from releasing an official Mobi client for the iPhone, but that's another story.)

Before you spend any more money, you should spend some time on the forums over on MobileRead. That's where many, many experienced e-book makers hang out. Let them know your situation and ask them what you should do: they'll be happy to offer advice and suggestions.