Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things that Work: BBedit 9

This past week, I've been making my published novels available as ebooks. My experience with Emperor Dad and then Roswell or Bust being out as iPhone App ebooks was encouraging. I don't make much on each sale, but it does put the stories out there where more people can find them. When I was asked if they were available in other formats, I began the process of converting them to Kindle and Mobi formats.

Both processes are very similar. You feed in your novel in one of several formats and it is converted into a dumbed down HTML version. Then comes the process of editing the HTML so that it displays correctly.

I have to wonder if Kindle was a reengineered mobi format. But in any case, the readers only handle a subset of HTML, not like the WebKit based version in the iPhone. Graham Perks did the conversions for the iPhone Apps, and for that I'm grateful. It wasn't a simple conversion.

When I ran into the problem that the Mobi Creator software wouldn't convert my Mac Word document, I experimented and discovered that PDF to HTML conversion of both Mobi Creator and the Kindle web tools was a adequate first pass. But only a first pass. I had to convert that code created by dumb automation and fix it. For that I needed a good HTML editor.

For years, I've been using BBEdit. Maybe back to the original version, I don't know. My memory isn't that good. However, I stopped upgrading back at BBEdit 8 because I was using iWeb for my main website and was no longer hand coding the HTML. But now I needed to do that again. The upgrade was cheap, and I discovered that version 9 is a nice improvement of an already classic tool.

BBEdit has more options than I'd ever use, but let me tell you what I did.

I went to the Kindle page and fed the PDF of my trade paperback novel in. After a moment's crunching, I could preview the resulting code in their on-line Kindle emulator. It was pretty ugly. I downloaded the HTML that had been created and unzipped it. On some of the novels, the auto-conversion had even created a table of contents, but on others it hadn't. I did some minor content editing, like changing the ISBN number for the new ebook version, but it was mostly formatting.

My paper version (and the iPhone App version) had nice dropcaps at each scene change, but Kindle doesn't do that, so I had to do a simpler version with just the font size command. Interestingly, the automatic conversion changed some of them into a h3 block, some into a h2 block and still others into a lettrine tag, which I'd never heard of, not that they actually worked in the ebook version.

The conversion also was rather erratic in its placements of paragraph blocks, sometimes using p's and other times using br's. I had to fix that. Thousands of changes through the novel. Conversion of styles sometimes came up with strange colors, I don't know why. In all, there were hours of manual changes. The bulk was done with BBEdit's nice grep-capable find and replace, but even then, it had to be eyeballed. A keystroke gave me a side by side rendered version where I could spot layout problems. Once that was done, I was able to use the built-in Tidy functions to convert everything to XHTML and scan for errors. There were thousands of them, and I had to knock them out manually. This is not a job for a script. Mangle formatting of a dialog and the reader will never understand the book.

Once I finished the Kindle formats and published the books that way, I fired up my tame Windows version and fed the Kindle HTML into MobiPocket Creator, and relatively easily created the mobi versions and put them up on the MobiPocket store.

So, now I'm done. I fed dumbed-down, clean HTML into the ebook publishing programs and I now have my books out there for people who prefer to read on their Palms, cell-phones, etc. Now to see if there are any sales.

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.