Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Store Ebooks in iTunes

I had heard that Apple was going to use iTunes as the organizational engine for their ePub books sold through iBooks, so when I upgraded my iTunes to 9.1, the first thing I tried was dropping my ebook folder on the Library sidebar, just as if I were adding a song or a video.  Sure enough, all the ePub files were added, although none of the other versions were noticed.  I thought I recalled iTunes being able to hold PDF files back in the past, but perhaps my memory is defective.  In anycase, today it is just the ePubs.

At first, I had a sinking feeling as they showed up with just a generic book icon.  A look at the metadata just showed the book title, author, and genre.  Tinkering with the Get Info forms allowed me to easily drop a cover and a description into the appropriate fields, which made the display much nicer.

That prompted the question; was the data saved in the file, or in the iTunes database?  A quick look at the ebook files showed the time stamps changed and the size plumped up by about the size of the cover art file I had used.  My quick-and-dirty way to glance at the interior of a binary file (ePub is a zipped file) showed that at the tail end of the file, two new segments, iTunesArtwork and iTunesMetadata.plist had been added.

The files I added were ePubs of my own novels with no DRM, and they are happy citizens of the iTunes folder, ready to be slurped into my iPad, when it eventually arrives.  Unfortunately, double-clicking on the entry does nothing.  There is no built in ePub reader in iTunes, nor any hook to fire up an external reader.  At least it looks pretty.  The books can be sorted by author or genre, and displayed as list, tiles, or coverflow.  You know, with the addition of a player component, this would be a nice addition for eBook reading.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comic Book Inspiration

Officially, Pixie Dust has a publication date of April 1, 2010, but my shipment just arrived, Amazon has jumped the gun and has both the trade paperback and Kindle versions available for sale.  It's a couple of days early, but I don't mind.  Just as soon as I turn on the buy button on my website, I'll start selling autographed versions myself.

Pixie Dust was one of those books that started with a single idea; what's it like to be a comic book superhero?  Back in the mid-'80s, I went through a period where I visited the comic book stores regularly.  Before too long, I had a collection of about 1200 issues, (calculated as 12 long boxes with about 100 issues in each).  My previous collection had gone away to the half-price book places when I was newly married and we were very short on cash.  I gave up some great stories back then.

Rather than just write a traditional comic book story, I wanted one with just one departure from real life physics.  It was okay to create the new physics to provide the plot, but I didn't want any of those scenes where 'our hero' falls a hundred yards and then gets up and walks away.  No fair changing the rules page by page.

I also wanted Jenny, a real 98-pound weakling, to be a comic book fan herself.  She's very aware that her predicament, being contaminated by an exotic substance, is right out of the pages of her favorite stories, and is able to compare and contrast what she's going through with the events she's read all her life.

I even structured the book in to twelve 'issues' rather than chapters.  If I had a good budget, I would have added some internal artwork, but that wasn't possible.  While I didn't want the comic book theme to overwhelm the story, there was lots of opportunity for Jenny to make use of her comic book expertise to help solve her immediate problems.

In all, it was a fun exercise to take a look at the comic book hero from a different angle.

I've also wondered if I should take advantage of my collection to promote the book.  Just as an experiment, if you order a copy of Pixie Dust from me, and request it, I'll include a couple of comic books along with it.  Sorry, I don't have a good index of what I have, that was lost with my Newton.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Waiting for the UPS Truck

Sometime today, a UPS truck will drive up and hand me a proof copy of Pixie Dust.  This is my last chance to notice any killer flaws in the cover and the text before committing to turning the book loose for sale.

If I see something horrible, then I have a very narrow window to make the corrections and upload the changes to the printer.  Originally, I said Pixie Dust would be released 'in April', but as more and more pieces of the publishing puzzle came together, I chose April first.  Everything was going fine, until there was a mistake in the publishing process that cost me about six days.  It was one of those things where I uploaded the a file to the wrong queue, and then didn't notice the error.

It's quite a juggling act.  About three or four months ago, I created the advance reader copy versions of the book and ebook and gave them out to a few selected review sources that preferred advance copies.  The theory is that, should the reviewers choose to write about the book, their comments would hit the internet near publishing time.

There are also four publishing streams I'm trying to manage, the trade paperback printed by Lightningsource.  The mobipocket ebook version and the Kindle version are currently queued up ready to go.  The mobipocket eBookbase system, took the file and my April first publication date and seems ready to go once the clock strikes midnight over in Europe.  The Kindle version will require me to go back to the website and click the publish button the day before that, and hope that there are no unforeseen delays in turning it loose on the Kindle store.

The bad boy of the lot is my ePub format ebook distributor which I may have to replace.  It took weeks to publish my other titles there, and now they aren't communicating with me about my new book.  That's another story for another time.

While it's not working out perfectly, it is my intent to get Pixie Dust published in all formats at the same time, with reviews hopefully to notify people that it's available.  Some of the bigger publishers try to stagger releases, so that their high dollar hardback sales aren't undercut by the ebook sales, but in my case, after the various selling and production costs are deleted, all formats produce roughly the same return.  The only exception being the books I sell from my own website and package up myself.

I'll keep you updated.

UPDATE:  It arrived and looks fine.  I'll need to do a more detailed check, but nothing about the new cover introduced any blatant errors.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Those Deadly Dates

I was watching Blade Runner last night, for the first time in a number of years, and when I read the opening introduction text I felt a pang of regret when it placed the age of bellowing flames and unbreathable skies in 2019, in L.A.  I regret it because it dates the film badly.  It would have been so much better to never mention the date.  A couple of changes in the script where 2017 could have been said "two years ago", and the story would have been much the better.  It's a flaw in a vision of a dark future that still has things to say about genetic engineering.

I can understand the problem.  I've made the mistake myself, several times.  For example, in a Parking Spacesshort story published in the September 1985 issue of Analog, and maybe written a year earlier, I put 1988 as the date where engine control computers in cars developed a rudimentary intelligence.  It was okay for a 1985 story that was quickly forgotten, but with just a little re-writing and put in Toyotas rather than Fords, it could find a whole new life.

Those early mistakes must have made an impression on me, because I made efforts to avoid explicit dates in nearly everything I write now.  Just like movies use 555 phone numbers, nailing down a fixed point in time has consequences.  Write for an age, not for a moment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Adding ISBN Information

This post is not going to be useful to anyone except people just getting into publishing, so feel free to just skip over the pretty screen shots if you're not interested.

A simple, practical definition of a publisher is someone who buys ISBN numbers.  Those funny numbers on books are the code that ties books to publishers.  Here in the United States, you buy the numbers from Bowker, either directly or indirectly, and then they're yours forever.  You can't resell or reuse them.  They're locked to your publishing name.  A quick glance at the Bowker price list shows $125 for 1, $250 for 10, $575 for 100, and $1000 for 1000, so you can see that if you are planning for more than just a single book, bulk is the way to go.  Currently there is a debate whether a title needs a separate ISBN number for each format, or one for the paper version, and one for the Kindle version, and one for the ePub version, etc.  I am definitely putting different codes on different formats, but other opinions differ.

Once you buy your block of numbers, you get to allocate them like you want, but it's important to feed your information back into the Books in Print database.  Bowker has a set of forms for doing that, and the following screen shots should give you a taste of the process.  At the moment, it's Safari unfriendly, so dig out your copy of Firefox.

Each of these images can be clicked on to get the full sized version.  Here is the top level view of my list of ISBN numbers.  I have 111 of them, since I bought 1 then 10 then 100. Some of them have been allocated and others haven't.  Since I get my bar codes from my printer, I never try to buy them from Bowker.

Once you click the View/Edit button, you get a multi-tabbed form that allows you to enter details about the title.  The first tab is for the book title, the cover art and description.

Once you fill out at least the required fields, you just switch to the next tab, you don't need to click Save button until all the information for that book is done, although you can save frequently if you want.
The next tab is for the author/authors and their bio information.

Next comes the price information, where it's on sale and details like that.

The format tab has various information, depending upon what kind of a book it is.  In this case, an e-book version, once I have indicated that it is an e-book, there is a pulldown list of dozens of types of e-books, many of which I've never heard of.

After that is series information.  Since Pixie Dust is a stand-alone title, I left this empty.  Should I write a sequel some time in the future, I'll have to come back and update this information.

The remaining tabs include information like copyright year, size information (which mainly applies to physical books), and tagging information for search engines.

Once all required information is entered and you click Save, the entry will go to a pending status and Bowker will fold it into the Books in Print database with their batch job processing.  Big publishers, updating 100 books or more at a time, can bypass this set of forms and use other systems, but I'm a long way away from that level of publication.

Once the book is in the database, lots of other businesses and organizations can get access to this information.  It's an essential part of the industry.  I don't like the 'paperwork', but if I'm a publisher, I have to do it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Home Planet Adventures

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for help choosing a marketing tag line for novels that did not quite fit the Small Towns, Big Ideas line I had been using for my previous YA science fiction tales.  While I didn't use any of the suggestions, they did help to fire the synapses and allow me to come up with my new line, Home Planet Adventures.

Novels under this icon will be science fiction adventures, but with no restriction that they be strictly YA or feature a small town.  The first one is Pixie Dust, coming out at the beginning of April.  I had to have the new line for this one, since Tinkerbell is in her twenties, and the story begins in Austin, well outside the limits of a 'small town'.

However, there are other Home Planet Adventures out there on the publishing horizon, but I'm not quite ready to talk about them yet.  There are very definitely more Small Town Big Ideas YA novels coming as well.

For those of you who helped me brainstorm the new line, I'm very grateful, and you should have already gotten an email about that.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Reviewing the Reviewers

Today, I've been hours in the chair, clicking through book review blogs.  It's interesting.  I found a huge list of book blogs and my goal is to get some of my books into the right hands.  My perpetual problem is finding the right reviewers.

I would say that the bulk of these blogs, while worthy and serving their readers well, just don't match up with my books.  If after scrolling through a half dozen reviews and seeing that they all have the classic Harlequin embrace on their covers, I'm likely to just move on to the next blog.  I'm not likely to run out of links.

The rise of the book blog is a wonderful thing, and I've even been guilty of an occasional review myself.  Since my chances of scoring a review in a major magazine or newspaper are very slight, my only chance of reaching potential readers is through word of mouth, or in todays world, a blog review.

I've tried to make it easy.  Here is the form..  Fill it out and I get notified that a reviewer would like a copy.  However, as with everything else, no one is going to discover that form on their own.  And that's why today I'm sending emails.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Converting a Novel from InDesign to ePub: Part 2

At the end of the previous post, I had a functional ePub file of the novel Pixie Dust.  Unfortunately, when I open the file in Adobe's Digital Editions, calibre, and iPhone's Stanza  I quickly see numerous formatting errors, despite my preparation.  Well, I was expecting this.  Let's get to the next step, making corrections to the ePub file.

The first, sad, realization is that the various ebook display software engines will do different things with the same source file.  At this point in history, I just have to accept it. But it is really sad that Stanza doesn't highlight a chapter title, center anything, or even show italics.

All that I can change is the source code.  What needs to be fixed?  At this stage, there is an error in the Table of Contents.  After the novel, there is a little bit of advertising for my other books.  The conversion picked up a couple of items there and added it to the table of contents.  The other obvious correction is that a new chapter does not start  on a new page.  While this is minor with the properly displayed large chapter title, on Stanza, I paged right past it the first time.  Making it harder for a reader to navigate around in the book is bad if I can avoid it.  Lastly, the cover isn't centered.  Perhaps I should have fixed it in the InDesign version, and I will, but I can also fix it in the ePub.

Sigil is an open source ePub editor, that allows both HTML coding and WYSIWYG editing in an optional two pane environment.  It also has a metadata editor for title, author, etc. and a table of contents editor.

To fix the cover centering, just click, click in the upper pane and the code is fixed.

For hands-on HTML coding, you use the lower pane and play with the HTML and CSS to your heart's content.  For example, the copyright information did not shrink in size like I wanted it to, but by adding a font-size: 50% in the CSS for the style of that front material, even if the user changes font size to their preference, this material will be smaller and less obnoxious.  Likewise, the bogus TOC entries proved to be incorrect use of styled types in the advertising section.  Changing the HTML to correct the styles removes that problem.

Unfortunately, I often see rendering flaws in Sigil, like the example here, where part of a sentence is skipped, even though it is correct in the source code and shows fine in the other book reader software.  It's just something to be cautious about, but Sigil's advantages are definitely worth using.

So, with some HTML and CSS coding, the end result looks a lot closer to the e-book I would like to present to the world.  However, after this pass through Sigil, the Table of Contents information supplied by InDesign has been lost.  Perhaps this is an expected result, but it has happened to me with all previous uses of Sigil, and so I psych myself up to regenerate the Table of Contents using Sigil's own TOC tool.

Using the WYSIWYG mode, I visit each chapter title (called 'Issue' in this novel) and Insert Chapter Break (second icon from the right on the top row) just before "Issue".  Then I use the Select headings="" pulldown to set the code to Heading 2.  Finally, just in case, I apply center formatting to the chapter title.  Repeat for each place I wish to start on a new page.

The Chapter Break marks places to start on a new page.  Sigil's TOC generator seems to use only the Heading tags to generate its entries (vs a more flexible system in InDesign)

There is also a Metadata editor, which would have been useful to correct a character in the description field, but proved difficult to edit-in-place.  I had to copy the text to an external editor, change the curved-single quote to a straight apostrophe, delete the description field and the re-add it using copy and paste.

The calibre ebook conversion system also has metadata editing, and is much easier to use, however calibre sucks the files into it's own library and is difficult for such in-place changes.  When you save to file, it exports a directory tree with the file name changed to its structure.

But that's it for this task.  I'll rename the file to something more public and begin to use the converted file.  If this write up about the process seems a bit disorganized, you are a perceptive person.

Converting a Novel from InDesign to ePub: Part 1

In previous blog entries I've talked about some of the problems of creating a decent quality e-book file.  Here, I'll let you watch as I convert my InDesign master file containing my novel Pixie Dust, already formatted for the paper version, into an ePub version.

I'll show the steps, as well as mention a few of the reasons for some of my design decisions.

The Master File
PD-Textmaster.indd is the fully formatted version of the novel, from which the PDF file is made that is uploaded to LightningSource, my printer.  It contains all of the interior of the book.  The actual cover is created separately and uploaded as an independent PDF file.  I call the interior file Textmaster because this is where all changes collect.  If I discover a typo, or correct a paragraph, those changes go here.  At this point, the manuscript original is archived and not changed.  Once the book is published in e-book and paper formats, tiny changes may be made to all the interim files, but big changes would have to be made to Textmaster and this conversion repeated.

My first novel Emperor Dad, was published with Microsoft Word as the master from which the fully formatted PDF was created.  It can be done, but I moved to InDesign because this is the professional tool designed for the task.  When I've had to go back to make corrections to Emperor Dad, it has been much more work than with the subsequent novels done in InDesign.

Clone the master file.  A simple copy and rename creates a new file where I can make e-book specific changes without affecting the original print version.

Simplify the front material layout.  In the paper version, there are a number of leading pages, the title page, the copyright page, the dedication, the table of contents, etc.  These are traditional and serve valid purposes, but the e-book is a different critter.  A reader of a paper book unconsciously skips past this leading material, but in an e-book the reader has to slog through it, and it can be a source of annoyance.  I try to boil it down to a single page, and reduce the font size if possible.  At this point, I change the ISBN number from the paper version to one specific to the e-book version.  I leave the paper ISBN number there, but it's plainly marked as being for the paper version.

Add the cover image. Place the front cover image as new first page, replacing the fly sheet if there is one.  Fit the content to the frame.  This image will be compressed during the conversion step, so I just went ahead and used the full sized image.

Convert the scene breaks. A scene break marks the change in the text larger than a paragraph but smaller than a chapter.  Grab a few books off your shelf and you will find that standard paperback sizes will frequently use the convention of all-capping or italicizing the first line of the new scene.  Hardbacks and trade paperbacks often use drop caps, the larger than normal first letter, formatted with the other text wrapping around it.  My paper versions are 6x9 trade paper, and I frequently use drop-caps.  All versions also include a blank line separating the scenes.

Scene breaks are meant to be invisible.  You wouldn't think so, just by the description, but this extra typography has been carefully designed over centuries to signal to the reader that something has changed.  Because nearly every book we read uses these conventions, we just accept it and filter it out, but our subconscious gets the signal.  Where scene breaks are left out, due to poor conversion or poor layout, the reader gets very confused when the point of view shifts, or a gap in time happens, and the following action just makes no sense.

In a manuscript, a scene break is signaled by something like this:
And the new scene follows. A few books do nothing but leave a blank line, extra spacing, to signal the scene break.  This can work, except when the scene break happens at the end of a page.  The reader flips to the next page and gets confused.  Something more than just a blank line is needed, especially when formats are automatically shifted in an e-book reader and you never can tell where a scene break will happen on the screen.

For Pixie Dust, I will be using the convention of a nearly invisible centered ellipsis, much like the mark I use for the original manuscript.

When I converted the manuscript to paper layout, I marked scene breaks with an Header3 paragraph style, centered, and replaced the ### with an EM-Space.  On the paper, all that is visible is a blank line.  I also mark the following scene with a drop cap.  

So, now, to convert them all to my e-book version, I do a global search and replace of the EM-Space with an ellipsis character.  The following paragraph, marked with a drop-cap style format is changed to regular text by doing a global search and replace of the drop-cap style to my regular body style. If I were going directly to e-book from the original manuscript, this would obviously be an easier process.

Export to ePub format. Use File->Export for Digital Editions...  Once you specify the filename and folder, you will have the opportunity to control the content with additional forms.

Include Document Metadata takes the information like book title and author that you have included via the File->File Info... set of forms.  If you are lucky enough that InDesign has done a good enough conversion to ePub for your purposes, this metadata addition is a good thing, but other editing tools I use later also allow adding it.

I have turned off Include Embeddable Fonts for two reasons.  One is that this increases the file size.  The other is that my careful design decisions appropriate for my paper book may be entirely inappropriate for ebook readers, PDAs and cell phone screens.  The font names are still exported, so if the reader device supports it, that's fine, but I choose fonts for readability, not for stylistic statements, so simplicity rules here.

In the Contents pane, I include the TOC entries.  The actual table of contents text is removed in the conversion process, along with blank pages and some other formatting information.  As I indicated before, IF InDesign has done a good enough conversion for you at this point, and table of contents generated for you in InDesign will carryover into ePub and you'll be glad to save the post conversion step.

At this point, I have an ePub file that will work in many readers.  For me, this is just the first step, because I have more cleanup to do, due to less than perfect conversion.  I'll go into that in the next blog entry.