ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Dissection of a Contract

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publishing.pngA friend of mine sent a contract my way. They had a bad feeling about it - and were right to do so. (Identities obfuscated for their protection.) I don't think that it was done out of malice or bad intent - it was just poor wording.

Remember that you can negotiate any contract. This contract was for a payment of $0.015 a word.

The big problem was here (emphasis mine):

This material may be used in whole/or part in the Publisher's book [TITLE REDACTED] and in/for any promotional use in print/electronic/online/other, including any future revisions, editions, and electronic versions thereof including exclusive world rights in all languages.

This is problematic for two reasons.  First, they're claiming ownership to the idea of the story.  That is, if you rewrite the story, it's still theirs.  Icky.  Further, exclusive world rights in perpetuity?  Um, no.  Not for the payment they offered. 

Also, that "other" means anything - including audio, derivative film rights, etc.  I would suggest the following replacement paragraph (edit if they do audiobooks):

This material may be used in whole or part in the Publisher's book [TITLE REDACTED], and excerpts of the material may be used for promotion of said book.  The Publisher is granted exclusive first worldwide print and electronic rights for [one, two, three - your choice] years on acceptance and non-exclusive anthology rights thereafter in all languages.  All rights not expressly enumerated reside with the author.


Anthology rights means they can keep printing the anthology indefinitely with your story in it, but can't bundle it into a different anthology.  The way it's written now, they can.  Post-acceptance means you get your story back if they never publish.

Again, this is a "put up or shut up" kind of thing, so I thought I'd share my contract templates with you. These are not considered legal advice, et cetera. These are the contracts I would want as a writer ... which is why it's what I use as a publisher (Alliteration Ink). I'm sure they're not perfect - so please put any suggestions, questions, and the like in the comments!

Alliteration Ink's base contract for buying a story for an anthology.

My base contract for digital distribution.

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Bugs - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!



vampireMarcus' fingers clung to the ceiling plaster, watching the the rotund mayor and short, compact priest. They always run to Rome when things get bad, he thought, tongue running over his fangs.

"Father, vampires exist." The mayor wiped sweat from his brow. "They threatened -"

"That you had to give them someone every week or they'd drain your family instead. Standard tactic." The priest frowned. "You made sure we aren't observed?"

The mayor nodded. "My assistant swept for bugs."

The priest began to speak, then Marcus dropped the bloodless mayor's daughter on the desk.

"Not what he meant," the vampire said.

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Not quite as strident as I seem.

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From talking to folks last night, I discovered that I've come across a bit more strident than I really am - especially in regards to Smashwords. It's worth repeating again right up top: Smashwords isn't perfect, but is a hell of a lot better than the outright scammers out there.

Or put another way, I'm debating the benefits of Merrill-Lynch versus Prudential versus daytrading... I'm not even discussing options like investing your money (or eBook publishing) at less reputable places.


Hillbilly bonfire
"We'll only charge 50% retail. It's a great deal, ayup!"


I personally know people who are doing just fine using Smashwords. Marian Allen told me that she's doing well by them, and has never had a problem getting in the premium catalog. I believe her.

That's not been my experience, mind you. There's always something that's kept my stuff from meeting "Premium" standards (and I've got my doubts about that label, but that's not my point). But that Marian and I have such different experiences is exactly my point. Marian has found a system that works for her professionally, has considered the good and bad of it, and made an informed choice. (By the way, go read her blog, and check out the free fiction she's got up. Good stuff.)

Do not accept me as the end-all-be-all of all things DIY. I learned a lot about POD publishing that I simply wasn't aware of last night. I realized that I've completely neglected Overdrive for digital publishing (which serves libraries). ::headdesk::

Again, remember that digital publishing is like an investment. You must be an informed consumer, but the choices that are right for me won't necessarily be right for you.

But money must always flow toward the author. Always.

Link Roundup for MarCon folks

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Here's some links for the folks at MarCon who just got introduced to me:

Tips on online privacy
Pirates, Pirates, Everywhere
Giving things away as publicity
The New Marketing

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Checking Your Work: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

Checking Your Work

Remember when I told you to install Calibre? You'll use the eBook viewer built into that program to quickly scan over your file. Check your font size, your built-in table of contents, and file order. If you find a problem, double-check your work. Remember that a forced page-break may not render with Calibre's eBook viewer.

Note that the table of contents in the sidebar is correct. This is the built-in table of contents that you created above.

Once you've done this "eyeball" check, you'll use the epub-fix tool that came bundled with Calibre. You'll go to a command prompt in the directory with your eBook and type:

epub-fix myebook.epub

Calibre should have added itself to your "path" so this should work. The output from this program is pretty straightforward to understand - and to fix. One note: It will usually only list one
error at a time. You will have to run this tool multiple times.
Here's two examples from a real project I was working on:

Ops/CoverPage.html not in manifest

Whoops. Easily fixed - I left that file out of content.opf. I added it in.

Failed to parse: Ops/chapter_07.html with error: Opening and ending tag mismatch: html line 1 and body, line 138, column 8

When I had cut-and-pasted the chapters, I forgot the ending </html> tag in some of the files. Whoops.

The next program to use is epubcheck. You can either run it yourself (using java) or use ThreePress'
online validator at http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate. Both give the same output; I find the webpage a little easier to read; at least, until I wrote a script that works on Linux: http://ideatrash.net/2011/04/using-epubcheck-on-linux.html If you run it locally, the command line is:

java -jar epubcheck-x.x.x.jar myebook.epub

The x.x.x portion is the version number of the program. The epubcheck program does not give back user-friendly output. Here's some examples (again, from a real project.) along with the reasons why they were errors.
ThreePress's site also has links to some common explanations of the errors epubcheck finds.

ERROR: myebook.epub: length of first filename in archive must be 8, but was 9

Remember when I said that the mimetype file had to be the first file in the archive? For some reason, it wasn't. Re-create a new archive, put mimetype in it first, then in a separate operation, put all the rest of the files for your eBook back in.

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/toc.ncx(26): assertion failed: identical playOrder values for navPoint/navTarget/pageTarget that do not refer to same target

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/toc.ncx(32): assertion failed: identical playOrder values for navPoint/navTarget/pageTarget that do not refer to same target

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/toc.ncx(38): assertion failed: playOrder sequence has gaps

This seems like a frightening series of errors, but it was because I accidentally had two entries with playOrder="2" and then straight to playOrder="4".

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/chapter_07.html(2): The processing instruction target matching "[xX][mM][lL]" is not allowed

Again, imposing looking. I had a blank line at the top of the file instead of the line that began <xml. Whoops. Deleting that extra line at the top of the file fixed it right up.

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/chapter_14.html: Malformed byte sequence: Invalid byte 2 of 3-byte UTF-8 sequence. Check encoding

ERROR: myebook.epub/Ops/chapter_17.html: Malformed byte sequence: Invalid

This was the hardest to track down. This is what I found:

"Somewhere in your production chain you have an editor that's not handling UTF-8 properly and is inserting garbage that's being interpreted as a UTF-16 surrogate. You need to fix this or you'll run into encoding errors again in the future."

To fix that problem, I opened the affected file in Notepad++ and use that to convert the encoding (in the Format menu). You may need to track down and change the character that's been mangled by the misbehaving editor. If you're using another editor, find the appropriate command to do the same thing. Simply saving it as UTF-8 format will usually
fix the problem.

One small note - as you fix one problem, more may crop up. For example, the error about "[xX][mM][lL]" meant that the rest of the file wasn't parsed properly. There were other errors (usually typos) that epubcheck caught after I fixed that big one.


Converting to Other Formats

Now that you've got a valid ePub document, you'll want to convert it into other formats. Specifically, I'm talking about converting your ePub into the Kindle (or .AZW or .mobi, depending on who you're talking to) format.

Let Calibre do it.

No, really. Once you've made a standards-compliant ePub, Calibre will convert it to the Kindle format like a dream. If your ePub is not standards-compliant (if it doesn't pass epubcheck or you've not bothered doing the hand-coding covered in this book), then you're likely to get garbage.

One note: If you have a PNG with transparency, it will not work in the Kindle format. It will look like a negative of itself, which sucks. So give your PNG a nice light white background instead of a transparency layer and it'll all be good.

Converting is pretty simple. Either drag your ePub file into Calibre's main window or use Calibre's "Add book" dialog. Select the book, and click on the "Convert Book" button at the top of the screen. On the next screen, change the "Output Format" box to MOBI. Click OK; the default options should work just fine.
The files will be in the directory "Calibre Library", located in your home ("~/home/YourName/Calibre Library") or user directory ("C:\Users\YourName\Calibre Library") depending on your operating system.

Congratulations! You have your book in formats that can be read by practically any eReader out there. Now the only problem is getting the eBook to those readers. Luckily, we already covered that here: http://ideatrash.net/2011/04/business-principles-so-you-want-to-make.html

At this point you should be ready to go. This part seems simple, but it's easily the most time-consuming and frustrating. Google is your friend. And of course, feel free to ask here.

Any questions?


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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The Tao of Doctor Who

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essay.pngYou can learn a lot from the Doctor.

I guess I should be up front and make clear that I'm not an expert in Buddhism or Tao. Nor am I an expert in Doctor Who. And while I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, I've not memorized the graphic novels (though I do have a print of the Endless on my wall). There's a few spoilerish elements if you've not seen seasons 1-3 of the reboot of Doctor Who. (I've watched a lot more since I wrote this, but it still applies, even though my examples only go through Tennant.)

There's something to be learned from them. Something about detachment - and dealing with the crap the Universe slings your way. It's easy (and common for Westerners) to hear a Buddhist or Taoist say "detachment" and translate that into not caring. I think that's an artifact of our language, though. We simply don't have the words to accurately express it.

random.pngIt's like "I'm sorry." We say "I'm sorry" when something crappy happens to another person, and they reply "It's not your fault." It's a problem with the language. We don't really have a term in English like lo siento, and the translations ("I feel your pain" or "I empathize") sound pretentious. So we're largely stuck with "I'm sorry".

The same goes with "detachment". We commonly imagine a Spock-like impartiality, or an emotional distance like Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen. [LINK] But that's a Western notion, and doesn't really get the point across. So the other alternative - being entangled in the world, being entangled in meaningless obligations and social niceties 1 - leads us to Destruction.

I don't just mean in a metaphorical sense, but also to the character Destruction from Sandman. The embodiment of Destruction just up and leaves because he can't deal with the damage any more. He understands it intellectually - the old must go to make room for the new - but he just can't bear to see it anymore. But I don't think it's just a matter of caring. He was entangled in the world, so every turn, every change, every small bit of destruction hurt. It hurt to the point where he had to leave everything in order to escape the pain.

But then... then there's the Doctor. This Time Lord is in a similar emotional situation. He knows, from personal experience, that everything - EVERYTHING - goes away. Everything leaves. Everything changes. He's outlasted most everything and everyone he knows. And he still cares. He doesn't always care in the way people want, whether we're talking about Rose Tyler or Sarah Jane or Cpt. Harkness or Martha Jones, all of whom wanted the Doctor to be primarily focused on them. They claimed to care - or love - the Doctor, and I really think he loved them all back. But it was totally different.

See, that's the thing about "love" - another single word that is used in so many different (and contradictory) ways. "Love" is used to describe a relationship where one person completely subsumes themselves in the other (or both become a group identity as a "couple"). It is used to describe selfish, possessive desire (see: Twilight, Fatal Attraction) as well as the most selfless and painful of separations for the good of either (or both) partners (see: Martha Jones leaving the Doctor). One type of love - the Fatal Attraction kind - is all about entanglement. "I need you" and "I want you" are key phrases; possession remains a theme. It's a dark, seductive, visceral thing... and it's destructive as all hell. The other type is harder to recognize or describe, except as a negative. It's not need. It's not want, or possession. But it is about caring, and it is about wanting the best for other people, and it is about enjoying the time you have.

Back to the Doctor. When the Doctor is focused on you, he is completely focused on you. But at the same time, when you're not the primary focus, his mind moves completely on. 2 He mourns lost friends and lost companions - and then moves on. When you're about a millenia old, have seen genocide after genocide, saved the world and failed to save lives, the transitory nature of everything probably starts to sink in. So enjoy what's there in front of you. Have fun with it. Care about the people who are there, and relish that instead of missing those who are gone. Treasure your memories of happiness, rather than using them to poison the experiences you're having.

Sure, he's not entirely successful at this. Sometimes he wanders into the realm of being a little too detached, sometimes he's not detached enough. Just goes to show that we've all got to practice at it.


1 Key word: Meaningless
2 Mickey Smith couldn't deal with this for the longest time - until he built up his own self-esteem on a parallel Earth. His interactions with the Doctor in the Attack of the Cybermen are very different than the self-doubting, pratfalling Mickey of earlier episodes. I think this is a telling detail.

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Commenters: E-mail me!

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If you commented or asked a question about the eBook conversion process, please e-mail me with how you'd like to be credited. If you want a particular web page or URL mentioned, let me know that as well.

Thanks!

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The Other Files: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

The Other Files

There are several other files we haven't touched on that belong in our ePub. We'll hit on each of them here.

The first two are container.xml and a file called mimetype. mimetype simply says what the ePub is, and container.xml simply says where the files are. They're in the example file you downloaded from my site. Look at them, but don't alter them.

A special note about mimetype: Make it the very "first" file in your finished ePub. Not the first in the directory, the first in the file Remember, an ePub is a just ZIP file with a special structure. Some eReaders get picky about the first bit of the file, and expect to find the mimetype file right at the beginning. Epubcheck will definitely throw an error about this.
It's an easy fix: create a new ZIP file (using "Send to Compressed File" on Windows or your third party solution) with only the mimetype file in it. After that, you can add, remove, and otherwise manipulate the other files in the archive at your leisure. Ubuntu (and other Gnome) Linux users: Fileroller does not preserve the file order, and you will get errors later on.

Next, you'll see toc.ncx. This is one of the two files that handles the built-in table of contents. This is not the same as the table of contents we created above. We'll walk through the basic enclosed example. It's worth noting that this example comes from a real project, and so would have to be edited.

Leave the top part of the file alone; it's fine as it is. Skip down to the <docTitle> tag. Put the title of your eBook between the opening and closing <text> tag.

Then there's the navigation map. Again, it's made of nested tags, starting with (naturally), <navMap>. Afterward, there will be a navagation point for each file (chapter) that a reader sees. With the navPoint opening tag, each item gets an id that is unique within that file. playOrder refers to - you guesed it, where the file is in the display sequence.

The <navLabel> tag is just like <docTitle>, except that it has the chapter name in it, and then content src points to the actual filename. As with the other files, each opening tag closes again, and then it all closes with </ncx>.

Pretty straightforward. (At least, when you look at the file.)

Then there's content.opf. There is a lot of information that you can put in the metadata portion of this file, but you've got to do it correctly. We'll deal with that first. You should be somewhat familiar with the idea of markup now - and how each item is open and closed.

I am sure that there are more possible items that you can stuff in the metadata here - but I can't guarantee that all readers will recognize them. Therefore, we'll stick with the basic ones. Take a look at the example. The first three lines should all stay the same. Then we get to the rest:

 

<dc:title>The Book Title</dc:title>

<dc:description>The back cover copy for your book. Keep it short, some eReaders truncate this text.</dc:description>

<dc:creator opf:file-as="AuthorLast, Firstname" opf:role="aut">Firstname AuthorLast</dc:creator>

<dc:date>2010-09-12</dc:date>

<dc:identifier id="BookId">Unique Book Identifier, can be ISBN</dc:identifier>

<dc:language>en</dc:language>

<dc:subject>Keyword</dc:subject>

<dc:subject>Another Keyword</dc:subject>

<dc:creator opf:role="aut">Firstname AuthorLast</dc:creator>

<dc:publisher>Your publisher, or your name or website.</dc:publisher>

<meta name="cover" content="cover.png"/>

 

The file content.opf also has an exhaustive list of all the files associated with the book. This is under both the manifest and spine toc sections. The examples below (which are also in the example file)
cover the most common file types. Order is not important in the manifest section.

 

<item id="ncx" href="toc.ncx" media-type="application/x-dtbncx+xml"/>

<item id="style" href="style.css" media-type="text/css"/>

<item id="cover" href="cover.png" media-type="image/png"/>

<item id="coverpage" href="CoverPage.html" media-type="application/xhtml+xml"/>

<item id="id1" href="chapter_00.html" media-type="application/xhtml+xml"/>

<item id="id2" href="chapter_01.html" media-type="application/xhtml+xml"/>

 

The id of each item can be whatever you want it to be (as long as it starts with a letter) - but making it short and simple is in your best interest. Immediately after the manifest section comes the spine toc - and order does count here.

 

<itemref idref="coverpage"/>

<itemref idref="id1"/>

<itemref idref="id2"/>

<itemref idref="id3"/>

<itemref idref="id4"/>

 

Now you zip (compress) all of these files into myebook.zip, and rename it to myebook.epub. You can, of course, call it something other than "myebook". When you name it something else, keep the filename short-ish and try to avoid spaces in your filename. Again, making your life easier.


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Chapter Decisions: So You Want to Make an eBook

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

Chapter Decisions
A downside of eReaders is their relatively weak processor. They don't need a strong processor, because they're usually not doing anything horribly strenuous. However, it's a weak enough processor that large files or lots of images can really, really slow them down. The problem gets worse the further you get into a file. For example, if you make an entire novel into only one file, my eReader takes over two seconds to turn a page by the end of the book. Break that same work down into chapter-length bits, and a page turn takes half a second or less.
Images also compound the problem - especially if they're too large, or there are many of them in each file. If you have an illustration (or table) heavy section, it might be worth separating that into multiple files.
Luckily, most prose works have a pretty natural break-point built in: chapters. I highly recommend that you make each chapter into a separate file. In fact, some stores require you to do this. If you are working with an anthology, then each story becomes a separate file, and if your eBook just contains a single short story or so just keep it as one single file. Here is my recommendation on how to do this most effectively:
In the
"base" directory from the sample pack is the file "empty_chapter.html". Edit the title and conversion fields (where it says "Your Name Here" and "Your Title Here"). Then make copies for each chapter, naming them something like chapter_00.html, chapter_01.html, and so on. Additionally, if you have footnotes, make a file footnotes.html. Make a file CoverPage.html.
You want the names to be something obvious and simple. The reason you use a leading zero ("01" instead of "1") is so that your files will sort properly when you look at them - it just makes your life easier. You'll notice this throughout here. Shortcuts will bite you in the buttocks. Period, dot, end of story.
Okay, now that we've done that, let's take a look at the empty chapter files. The very first line must be the one that begins <?xml (and then a bunch of other stuff). The first two lines declare what kind of file it is. The third line says that the HTML starts there, and gives some technical specifications about how the file is treated. Then you see the <head> tag. All of the tags from <html> on are closed later on in the file. Think of it like a math operation:



( ( 2 * 3 ) + ( 8 - 5 + ( 2 * 3) ) )


Each operation inside a parenthesis must be completed before moving onward.
The other thing to remember is that <html> and <HTML> are not the same. Capitalization counts - so if you open with a <P> tag, it will not be closed by </p>.
Anyway, back to our file. The head section can be left pretty much as is, since you've already put your name and the title of your book in there. All of your text will go between <body> and </body>. Finally, there is the closing </html>. There must be nothing after the closing tag!
Cut and Paste
So now you cut and paste the text into the appropriate chapter files. Footnotes go into footnotes.html, as we discussed earlier. This part is pretty simple and straightforward, just making sure that you put the text between <body> and </body>.
The hardest part here is going back through and fixing your footnotes in footnotes.html. Remember the double exclamation points you made as placeholders? Now it's time to change those to the actual numbers for your chapter files. If you followed my advice before, you already know what chapter each footnote goes to, so it's just a matter of typing the numbers in from your notes.
Making the cover page at this point is really easy as well. Edit CoverPage.html and paste in this text in the <body> section of that file:
<div id="cover" style="text-align:center"><img src="cover.png" alt="table"/></div>
That's it!
A Table of Contents page - as opposed to the built-in table of contents that we'll work with later - is simply a list of hyperlinks. Create another blank file like you did with the chapters. Then after the <body> tag, put the following:
<p class="center"><span class="b">Table of Contents</span></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><a href="CoverPage.html">Cover Page</a></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><a href="chapter01.html">Chapter One</a></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><a href="chapter02.html">Chapter Two</a></p>


You get the idea.

NOTE: Rob caught a typo/conversion error on my part (now corrected). The HTML tags MUST have a closing paragraph at the end.

There is no implicit paragraph close tag. You've got to implicitly close it each time - along with each element within that tag. For example:

<p><em><strong>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.</strong></em></p>
<p><em><strong>Suspendisse eu diam nibh, ut consequat dolor.</strong></em></p>

NOT

<p><em><strong>Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.</p>
<p>Suspendisse eu diam nibh, ut consequat dolor.</strong></em></p>

This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Inserting Images: So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.


Images

Images are, to put it mildly, annoying to write about. The problem is that
there are so many different options and graphics editing programs out
there, so giving specific advice is difficult. The key things you
need to know how to do:

Crop an image

Create a screen capture

Save as a PNG or JPG or GIF

Change color depth

Change resolution

The instructions on how to do these operations should be covered in the help file for your favorite image manipulating program. I've used four different programs that had radically different mechanisms for doing the same operation, so trying to guess what software you're using is just going to confuse us both. The good thing is that these operations – especially the top three – are very common and present in nearly any graphics editing program.

I'm most familiar with Irfanview ( http://www.irfanview.com/ ) which works well on Mac & Linux with WINE - see http://www.irfanview.com/faq.htm#Q53 ). It's simple and does most of the operations above pretty simply.

Paint.Net is another good alternative for Windows ( http://www.getpaint.net/ ). The GNU Image Manipulation Program ( http://www.gimp.org/ ) is crossplatform and powerful, but has a much steeper learning curve. There are a lot of good tutorials for the GIMP, though, such as the ones on http://gimp-tutorials.net/

With any amount of luck, you already have a cover. Otherwise, find yourself a graphic designer or artist to create one for you. (Seriously - unless you've had training in graphic design, the odds are that you aren't nearly as good as you think you are.) The primary purpose we'll be using images for here are for tables. Still, the same advice works for other illustrations that you may have for your work, like a separator image - like this one:

* * *

Anyway, tables.

Tables are not well supported, since the size of the display screen is going to vary.

Remember the PDF you originally created? You can use that or your original source document. Bring it up so that the table is nice and legible,
then create a screen capture. Crop it as closely as possible, and then resize it so that no side is larger than 500 pixels. If your table is especially large, you might want to consider rotating it sideways, and making the longer side 700 pixels or so. This ensures complete compatibility. Larger sizes are doable… but you run the risk of making your tables running off the screen. Shrinking it further is also problematic, because then the text in your tables becomes illegible.

After resizing the image, you want to decrease the color depth. You can almost always decrease it to 256 colors (8 bits per pixel) or 16 colors (4 bits per pixel) while keeping the image quality. Remember, we're talking tables here. You can get away with 16 colors with greyscale images, but keep your full-color images full-color.

Avoid the temptation to make it a black and white image. I'm not sure why, but they render badly on several eReaders. Also, transparency is a tricky thing - it renders properly with ePub but looks like a negative in Mobi format. A white background is usually sufficient.

Save the file as a PNG, with a decent amount of compression. (Compression levels of 6-7 are usually pretty good, and are the default on many programs.) You can use JPG if you like, but the tradeoffs are not worth it. By decreasing the color depth and keeping the resolution low a PNG formatted file should not be significantly larger but look better. You can also try the GIF format, especially if we're talking about many, many tables.

You'll put the images in the text like this:

<div id="image01" style="text-align:center"><img src="myimagename.png" alt="table"/></div>

Obviously, src refers to the file name of the image. The id section ("image01" in the example above) must be unique to each image. The alt section ("table" above) will be the text shown if the image cannot be shown for some reason. Because I'm using the example of using a table as an image, that's why the alt tag says "table". If it was a section divider image, you might want to have your alt tag be alt=" * * * " instead.

If you want to put the images in a separate sub-folder, you can do so, but you shouldn't have to with the naming scheme we have here. Again, it's about the complexity of your book. I just completed a conversion with over 600 images, and you bet they were all in a separate folder!


This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Using CSS instead of HTML: So You Want to Make an Ebook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

So now that you know what to look for, it's time to search and replace again (and you'll see how these styles are used at the same time).

Replaced <p><center> with <p class="center>.
Replaced </center> with a blank
Why: Formatting should be handled by CSS.

Replaced & with &amp;
Why: It's an HTML entity that's common and will completely bork your conversion, but I forgot in the prior section.

Replaced <i> with <span class="i">
Replaced </i> with </span>
Replaced <u> with <span class="u">
Replaced </u> with </span>
Replaced <b> with <span class="b">
Replaced </b> with </span>
Replaced <sup> with <span class="sup">
Replaced </sup> with </span>
Replaced <strike> with <span class="strike">
Replaced </strike> with </span>
Why: Handle text font changes with CSS.

You'll have to do blockquoting and first paragraph non-indention manually. Simply change the opening <p> tag to <p class="blockquote"> or <p class="first">. Again, you'll have to make sure there's no funky cases that were not caught by our simple search and replace - such as <p align="center">. You'll want to change those to use our CSS elements.

Realistically, these can only be caught by hand, since there are so many possible variables.

Pagebreaks are a special case, used when you need a pagebreak no matter where the text is. This is most commonly seen in the section with the title page, copyright page, credits, dedication, and so on. You achieve this effect like so (remember the pagebreak happens before this tag!):

<p class="pagebreak">&nbsp;</p>

As an important side note: Pagebreaks of this type do not appear in the Calibre eBook viewer. They do appear in actual eReaders.

Do NOT use this for section breaks! For section breaks, I recommend either using an image or this:

<p class="center>*&nbsp;*&nbsp;*&nbsp;</p>

You do not need a pagebreak at the end of a chapter (because we'll make each chapter a separate file).

Footnotes and endnotes must also be done by hand. We will convert them all to endnotes at this time. While you can "footnotes" at the end of each chapter, you can't mimic text in this way. However, by putting return links with each note, the difference to your readers is trivial.

Where the footnote (the little superscript number) is in the text, you will format it in this way (the latin is "lorem ipsum", or generic filler text):

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit <a name="footnote01_r"><span class="sup"><a href="footnotes.html#footnote01">1</a></span>. Sed massa quam

Let's look at these parts:

<a name=" "> - This serves as an "anchor" for our hyperlink. We are actually defining the return point here.
<span class="sup"> and </span> - Creating the superscript appearance.
<a href="footnotes.html#footnote01"> and </a> - Creates a hyperlink. We will create the actual file "footnotes.html" below, in Chapter Decisions. The part you may not have seen before comes after the pound or number sign. This links to a specific point in the document. This is the key to making good footnotes or endnotes. Obviously, you'll put 02 for the second footnote, and so on.

Now go to the end of your ginormous document. This is where the actual end (or foot) notes will go. Here's a quick example of what that section will look like.

<p class="pagebreak">&nbsp;</p>
<p class="title"><span class="b">Footnotes</span></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><a name="footnote01">1. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. <a href="chapter!!.html#footnote01_r">Go back</a></p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>

So you see how that part after the pound sign works? It will return your reader right back to where they left off. This is one of those things that gets ignored when it's done well, but is extremely annoying when it's done poorly.

Here's the rough part. See those two exclamation points? You have to replace those with the actual file name... but we haven't created it yet. So two exclamation points are serving as our marker text. (You can use any unlikely character set - such as BOOG - but you don't really have two exclamation points in a row somewhere else in your text, do you?) We will catch up with this later. It will make your life much easier if you note down on a bit of paper what chapters each footnote came from.

While you're at it, if there are smart quotes, replace them all with &quot; (there weren't in my example). This is actually something fairly trivial to do in Notepad++, under the menu item TextFx. It's worth noting that I do not think smart quotes are useful - they're only noticeable to the reader when you screw up. If they're all " characters, your mistakes disappear.

If you (or your customer) is dead-set on smart quotes, use &ldquo; and &rdquo; (left double quote and right double quote) respectively.

You might also want to make it so that each paragraph (the space inbetween <p> and </p> ) is a single line. I find it easier to navigate the document that way.

Some eReaders are able to actively follow links to the web, so if you have a link to your website or where they can buy more books, create active links to them in your book! You will do it like this:

<a href="http://www.mywebsite.com/">Go visit my website!</a>

Because some of your readers may not be able to follow the links, you may wish to display the actual web address as well:

Go visit my website at <a href="http://www.mywebsite.com/">www.mywebsite.com</a>

One note: Some kinds of complicated links, such as affiliate links for Amazon, do not meet the ePub standard because of the & sign. Using an URL shortener such as TinyUrl (http://tinyurl.com), bit.ly (http://bit.ly) or Google's URL shortener (http://goo.gl/) can help work around this problem.

Further, many marketplaces explicitly forbid affiliate links.

Save this. Save a backup of it. Next, images.

This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Guilt, Blame, and Writing Anyway

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review.pngWhen you get too far out in the extremes of politics - whether the left or the right - it starts getting really hard to tell the difference.

Guilt and blame are the same way.

I was raised Catholic, so we can get the de rigeur jokes about guilt out of the way. Ready? Cool. I'm actually going to use writing as an illustration anyway. There's two stereotypes of writers out there - well, almost stereotypical types of writers.

The first is The Next Big Thing. This person believes that everything they've written is, simply, awesome. Every word comes out perfectly, every plot twist is unforseen yet has readers amazed they didn't see it coming. Second drafts are for lesser beings who do not have a Muse at their beck and call. Editorial changes? Pshaw! This person refuses editorial changes with a level of scorn usually reserved for art critics judging a fingerpainting, and rightly so! For is not every word that they enscribe simply Art?

The second is The DrawerHound. This person has manuscripts all over the place - but they don't submit them anymore. Nor do they go to critique groups. They used to, of course, but then they got rejected by a magazine, or they were told that the phrasing in the third paragraph was a little sloppy. That, of course, was when they knew They Couldn't Write. So manuscripts - if they still write at all - are hidden in a drawer. Nobody sees them because someone might not like them. Besides, didn't Uncle Rudolph say that nobody's a writer anymore? Obviously he was right.

I said these were almost types of writers, and there's a good reason why: Neither is going to get published, not regularly, because neither one of them is ever going to improve.

Whether through denying any critique or accusation (and avoiding blame and guilt) or through overdwelling on critiques and accusation (and making blame and guilt the total focus), both wannabe-writers put the manuscript aside and never improve thier craft. Both extremes are unhealthy and, more to the point, are not useful at all.

Sometimes critiques are wrong. I tend to knock adverbs at my critique group; sometimes the others agree, sometimes not. Sometimes critiques are right. A criticism about a character's lack of voice led to a much stronger (and well-defined) character in The Burning Servant.

The trick - with critiques, blame, and guilt all - is to examine them and objectively judge whether or not there's a basis for them. Sometimes the answer's "yes". Sometimes "no". Sometimes it's "maybe". But by judging each critique on its own merits, we can improve our work and our lives.

Otherwise, we're just pretending to write.

Or live.

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Not just publishing light: Publish at the iBookstore and Kobo with me

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publishing.pngI promised you an announcement last week. Unfortunately, I ran afoul of a deadline gone wrong, but here it (finally) is:

Alliteration Ink will provide a la carte distribution services to the four major digital bookstores (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and the iBookstore) and my own web store.

I think this is an important step to take, both personally and as a small press. While I am a small publisher, this is explicitly designed to be as close to DIY (and VIP) as possible.

What's needed?
  • The eBook file (in ePub and/or Kindle format) - You can provide this to me, or I can convert it for you. Your choice.
  • A new ISBN. If you are only distributing to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you do not need one. You can obtain one yourself or through me ($25, flat). Use a different ISBN than the one for your print edition.
  • The cover art as a separate file, the smallest side no smaller than 600px. JPG, GIF, or PNG, please.
  • A contract and statement of rights. That is, a statement saying that the file is yours and your responsibility.
  • Some money. I charge $15 ($10 of this is non-refundable) for getting each book to each store, and 4% of gross reciepts for each book at each storefront. There is one exception - if I distribute your book to any of the other stores, you have the option of listing it for free (and 4% gross reciepts) at my storefront.
  • Paypal or physical address For paying you, naturally.

Some (hypothetically) FAQ's:
  • So you don't care if I upload it somewhere? Not particularly. You may not offer the book less elsewhere - that breaks agreements with the storefronts. As long as you have the same price everywhere (hint - have it end in .99 so that the iBookstore will take it), we're good.
  • Are you charging a rate for "day labor"? Not really. The uploading fee is strictly paying me for my time. The 4% of reciepts is meant to reflect my time and energy doing some accounting work for you. I believe that on the balance, this will be the cheapest for authors without screwing me over. I may revisit this later if I'm wrong.
  • How often do you pay authors? Currently, I'm paying quarterly, simply due to time constraints on my time. The good thing is that I will pay you quarterly regardless of how many copies your book sold. Several places (the iBookstore comes to mind) have "thresholds" for payment. I won't make you wait for them. I hope to get the payments up to monthly (or less), but I'd be foolish to promise that now... I simply have too many other commitments.
  • Why isn't my book up yet? Three possible reasons.
    1) I'm one guy, who also has a "day job". Sometimes I get overwhelmed, and while I'm working on improving my scheduling, I do get to everything... eventually.
    2) It's the storefront's fault. While getting it up to my storefront is rather speedy, all the others take at least twelve hours. Kobo seems to take 7 business days, the iBookstore approximately 10.
    3) They rejected it for some reason.
  • What if my book is rejected? It depends on whether or not I converted your book, and why they rejected it.
    If your book is rejected due to content or legal reasons: I will refund the $5 portion of the fee. Please fix whatever issues there are before starting again.
    If your book is rejected due to formatting reasons: If I converted your book, fixing such problems is covered under my guarantee. If I did not convert your book, I will refund the $5 portion of your fee. Please fix whatever issues there are before starting again. (Note: My guarantee applies if I just fix your eBook, which is less costly.)
  • So do we know why my book got rejected/ Is my rejected book fixed yet? In my experience, getting answers why a book is rejected from the iBookstore is a long process involving multiple e-mails over weeks. (Yes, weeks.) Please be patient dealing with them.
  • What if I change my mind and don't want to use you any more? You do not need to give a reason to stop using my services. Should you do so, I keep the original $15 fee, we settle accounts immediately, and pull the books from digital distribution. I cannot transfer ownership of the ISBN; however, the eBooks will still be yours2.

I'd be interested in any questions you have - or things that I didn't make clear. My goal is to honor Yog's Law (money flows toward the author) and to create something that is a tool for DIY/VIP/Indie authors to use when and as they need it.


1 This is official; I've updated the Alliteration Ink website to reflect these terms.
2 Giving you the final copy of the converted eBook is part of my conversion services, and if you provided me with one, you'll still have it, naturally.

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Rapture: The Easy Way Out

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soc_econ.pngThere's a long history of apocalyptic, millennial beliefs in Christian thought - including the Rapture. It's not surprising that so many buy into end-of-the-world predictions; it's surprising how few do.

It's for a simple reason: It's easy to believe in the end of the world.

We aren't talking about the atheist/humanist/existential thought that life is ultimately without meaning (conveniently summed up in the saying "On a long enough scale, the mortality rate reaches 100%"). With the Rapture (or any Christian apocalypse), meaning is preserved... but responsibility ends. It's a seductive thought that you don't have to try any more.

My favorite Tom Robbins book - Another Roadside Attraction - explains it well:

Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live.
- Tom Robbins

Time to go on living, folks. Time to go on living.

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Testing social media blitzing...

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I apologize for any duplication; I'm trying a different way of propagating post content out to my social networks. Carry on, citizens!

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The New Marketing

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publishing.pngThe other day, Cassandra made a comment on my post about digital publishing as investing:

The biggest hurdle for digital publishing outside of the main storefronts for individuals will be marketing.

Companies that put out digital publications have an advantage as their audience is likely already coming to their website for content and downloading an e-book from their e-commerce site will likely not be much of a stretch.

But the individual trying to publish is also going to have to market their wares. So again, trade-off.

First, keep in mind that authors can sell from their own websites as well.

I'm not sure about the overall premise. While there's a lot more options for purchasers, there's a lot less competition.

Yes, less competition.

•You don't have to worry about whether or not your book is on an endcap, or face-out.

•You can afford to let your first book stay in print and for sale for months and years. That's something that is simply impossible to do in any location where physical rents are paid, unless that book constantly sells at a volume high enough to pay the rent for the shelf space.

•You can afford to take the time for folks to come to you - because you're not focused on first-week sales.

You don't have to find your market - you can let your market find you.

Kris Rusch wrote an entire bit about that where authors have hurt themselves with self-promotion (which I can't find right now); if someone has a link, let me know.

But here's the keys:

•Your biggest publicity is writing more.

•Your second biggest publicity is being genuine and honest about yourself, your work, likes, and dislikes. (See The Cluetrain Manifesto or Crush It! for more.)

Only after those two things comes the rest (and in order of importance, IMHO):

•Recommendations
•Reviews
•Advertisements


I'll actually be testing this with The Crimson Pact over the course of the summer. I've noticed that I get the most publicity from being at cons, being on panels, and generally being myself. You know, stuff I do anyway because I'm a loudmouth know-it-all, and try to be vaguely entertaining while being such.

I'll be doing that all summer long - while talking about The Crimson Pact. At the same time, the second volume of the Crimson Pact - along with a special edition - will be coming out during the summer. I'm betting that those will all help sales in a sustained way - and I'll share the results with all of you.

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The most beautiful person I've seen on the internet today

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rant.pngI had to leave the room during work at my day job today.

A few of my co-workers were watching this video of a girl (my guess is that she's in middle school (see edit at bottom) singing Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream". Apparently it's become quite a nice little "hit" on facebook.

And by "hit", I mean "people saying shitty things about her".



I won't repeat their comments. They were mean, bullying things. They were the comments of small people trying to make themselves feel better by condemning another person's efforts.

And they're wrong.
***

This is a bit personal for me.

Last school year, before his voice started changing, my son had volunteered to complete an assignment by making a song for it. The day before he was to sing it, some bullies in his class made fun of his voice for being "high like a girl's".

He forced himself to throw up instead of singing in front of the class.
***

It took me a while to find this girl's video. I first found it reuploaded by someone else who had titled it "ugly girl sings katy perry." And I found that making fun of middle schools girls singing is something of a popular sport.

To the bullies - especially those of you who have already survived the hell that is USAian middle school - shame on you all. And thank you for letting us know that your self-esteem is such shit that you have to try to tear down a young woman's self-esteem to make yourself feel better.

To all the rest of us: I'm asking three small things of you.

1. If you feel comfortable doing so, link, post, share, or otherwise spread the word. Write your own post. Let the bullies know that we know they're bullies, and there's a hell of lot more of us freaks1 than there are bullies. At best, they'll realize they don't have to be so scared that they have to pick on others.

2. Go comment on this woman's youtube or formspring account and let her know how courageous and beautiful she really is.

I'm serious. She's a beautiful person. Look at her responses to formspring comments. This young woman is responding to some seriously hateful crap with grace, poise, and kindness. That's a hell of a lot better than I would be able to do.

3. When you run across another video - hell, make a few moments a week to find another video - especially one where bullies are trying to make some young person's life worse - take a second to tell them they're beautiful and courageous and a wonderful person.

Because it does get better - but only if we make it so.

[Edit: On Formspring, she says she's 20. Dunno if that's true or not. ::shrug:: It doesn't matter, does it? While looking for her video, I found plenty of videos of other girls - who SAID they were 11-15 - getting bullied in the same way.]


1 And I claim "freak" and "nerd" and "geek" with pride, thank you.

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Smashwords: Can You Say Conflict of Interest?

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publishing.pngSmashwords has lots of ardent supporters. Yet I've been consistently negative about them. I'm also puzzled why the DIY/VIP/indie crowd points to Smashwords as an independent solution, when they're (IMHO) replicating the bad portions of Big Publishing. Meanwhile, my friends in the VIP/DIY/indie crowd wonder why I'm so skeptical of Smashwords.

There are two reasons for my position - and both relate to my concept of thinking of digital publishing as an investment. (As mentioned there, you may disagree with me, and it's all cool.)

  • Smashwords is three business models in one, and they cannot (at present) stand independently.
  • Smashwords locks you into all of the business models rather than competing individually on the free market.

Yesterday, I wrote about the three business models; today I'm going to talk about the second - and how it's a conflict of interest.

Second: Smashwords locks you into all of the business models rather than competing individually on the free market.

When you convert a book with Smashword's Meatgrinder software, you do not have rights to the output. The converted eBook is not yours to sell. You must use Smashwords to distribute your eBook, and let them sell it at their store.

1. Direct sales (obviously) put more money in the pocket of the author. You are prohibited from doing this if you use Meatgrinder. Sure, you still have a specifically formatted Word document - but that's of no use if you're selling to people with nooks and Kindles.

2. If Smashwords goes kaput, you no longer have that converted book to upload or sell on your own.

3. The document required by Smashwords takes about as much time to specially format1 as it does to make a nice ePub file yourself. (Seriously. It did for me. Making an ePub from a basic text document is fairly easy, just a bit time-consuming.) Except that if you make your own ePub file (which easily converts to Kindle formats using Calibre), then you own the thing and can sell it wherever you want to. Instead, using Smashwords, you can only have your eBook available where Smashwords distributes to.

4. It's a conflict of interest. Seriously, one of the traditional ways that you tell a ... well, not-good ... publishing service from a good one is whether or not you must use all of their options. Smashwords fails this test horribly. You must use their converter. You must use their distribution. You have to sell in their marketplace. This all bothers me. (Seriously - for me it's just as bad as the "agent-as-publisher" stuff.)

As mentioned in the post about thinking of eBooks as an investment, feel free to use Smashwords. Seriously. Go right ahead. Just like I won't stop you from investing your money in buying the Brooklyn Bridge. But I have enough problems with their setup that I'm only going to use Smashwords when specifically asked to do so.

Further, I'm going to quit whining and bitching and promote a specific alternative. Me. Alliteration Ink.

Later this week, I intend to put up the publishing/distribution framework to get your book into the iBookstore and Kobo. (If you really want me to distribute to Amazon and B&N for you, I will.) I will charge for my time, and a small percentage (probably 5%) to cover administrative costs of doing the billing. If you want an ISBN, I'll sell it to you. If not, I won't. If you want me to convert the book, I will. If you have one already, that's fine too.

When/if the iBookstore and Kobo become completely open and easy to use, I'll be happy to let you distribute it yourself instead. Hell, I'd be happy if nobody needed to use me for any of this. But I'd rather promote a truly DIY solution, one where Yog's Law is enshrined, and where you're encouraged to make it happen yourself first. That's why I'm (slowly) putting out "So You Want to Make an eBook?".

Maybe this post - or service - will shake up things at Smashwords so that they go from "not as bad as the others" to "pro-author". If not, there will be at least one alternative out there.


1 At least, if you want in the "premium catalog" so that you can be distributed to other outlets... (Yes, that's right, you don't automatically get distributed elsewhere.)


[EDIT BELOW]

On Facebook, Rigel asked me:
Good post. I'm a fan of Smashwords, but I'm always interested in more information so I was glad to read your comments.

I admit, though, I don't understand why you're fixated on Smashwords owning a "format" that they can NOT do anything with... besides sell as the author allows and then give the author money?

Plus, as you said, the author is free to sell the same story through as many outlets as s/he choses.

Apologies if I missed the point, but I'm interested in understanding better.

It's a good question.

It's because the author is going to spend time and effort (as well as energy learning how to make a Meatgrinder compatible document) instead of learning how to do it for themselves - and keeping the money in the hands of the *author*.

It also locks the author into using Smashwords as a distribution outlet. So if you've got a work there and you decide that you'd rather just work directly with AMZ and B&N ... you've got to do the same work *all over again* to get it converted, even though a converted version exists.

It's the "printer is cheap but the ink refills are expensive" model of business. The eBook conversion is cheap (free - except for the time and effort in getting something to convert), and then they make their money off of being a distributor. If you don't like their service for whatever reason, then you're screwed.

Again, many of my objections to Smashwords would disappear if authors could pick and choose which bits (storefront/conversion/distribution) they wanted to use - but I suspect we'll never see that.

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Smashwords: About as Indie as Hot Topic

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publishing.pngSmashwords has lots of ardent supporters. Yet I've been consistently negative about them. I'm also puzzled why the DIY/VIP/indie crowd points to Smashwords as an independent solution, when they're (IMHO) replicating the bad portions of Big Publishing. Meanwhile, my friends in the VIP/DIY/indie crowd wonder why I'm so skeptical of Smashwords.

There are two reasons for my position - and both relate to my concept of thinking of digital publishing as an investment. (As mentioned there, you may disagree with me, and it's all cool.)

  • Smashwords is three business models in one, and they cannot (at present) stand independently.
  • Smashwords locks you into all of the business models rather than competing individually on the free market.

We'll spend a day with each of these.

Smashwords is three business models in one, and they cannot (at present) stand independently. The three businesses are eBook conversion, retail outlet, and aggregator/distributor. Each of them is problematic.

eBook Conversion: The eBook conversion (through Meatgrinder) is notoriously finicky, and requires very specific formatting. Unfortunately, you must use Meatgrinder if you wish to use Smashwords. The degree of work needed is roughly equivalent to creating an ePub yourself 1 (especially if you've had to use the "nuclear option"). There are plenty of automatic conversion tools that work just as well (or badly) as Meatgrinder - Sigil, Calibre, and the ePub export option with Atlantis Nova come to mind. Unlike Meatgrinder, you can tweak the output of any of those other three after the fact to fix conversion errors. With Meatgrinder, you have to keep tweaking the source document.

I have to wonder how many folks would even bother with the frustrating tweaking if they could use other options.

While in an email conversation with Mark Coker, he told me that his long-term goal was to accept ePubs from authors; that was five months ago. This mystifies me, as he also said:
WWe are first and foremost an ebook distributor. Our Meatgrinder eliminates the technical and financial barrier that prevent authors from getting their work out there.
If an author already knows how to make a standards-complaint ePub, forcing them to use a different converter creates a new barrier.

Retail Outlet: The retail aspect of Smashwords is also problematic. In my experience, the only people who know about Smashwords are authors or those who directly talk to or follow authors who use Smashwords. This makes me wonder how viable the retail platform of Smashwords would be without having everyone who used their conversion service.

Mr. Coker admitted to me (again, in that e-mail conversation) that about 80% of the sales came through retail partners. I presume the vast majority of those (again, from my own experience selling eBooks) are through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Both of those outlets have far outperformed Smashword's direct sales for me. Both of those outlets accept direct uploads from, well, anyone. The iBookstore and Kobo are a little more problematic, but still accept (essentially) the same ePub file.2 Sony is the only one that doesn't want to talk to small publishers or independents; I expect that will change as it has with all the other digital retailers.

Aggregator/Distributor: This is Smashword's primary gig, and it's one place where they are noticeably less skeevy than many of the others out there. (I recently wrote an article about the retailers, which should appear in the April-May (I think) issue of the SFWA Bulletin. That said, the need for such an aggregator is disappearing rapidly. To the best of my knowledge, Smashwords distributes to only two places that, say, I can't: Sony and individual apps. I discussed my opinion of books-as-apps last week, and I suspect that the Sony bookstore will either open up to individual authors, wither away, or both. As mentioned above, my experience is that most sales come from the nook or Kindle platforms (or direct sales - more on this in the next post); you can upload to both on your own.

Again, thinking about digital books as investments helps. Think of Smashwords as your broker for a second - and then imagine that broker going out and buying the same certificates of deposit from a local bank that you could - and then taking a cut of the proceeds. The time saving is worth something - but I'm not convinced it's worth as much as Smashwords charges.

In short, all three parts of Smashword's business model seem unsustainable as individual elements. It's like a house of cards. Unless there's something not visible to outside observers, Smashwords currently exists only as long as its customers (and by that I mean authors) are locked into all three parts.

This is a problem in itself - and it's one that I will go into tomorrow.


1 Full disclosure: I professionally convert eBooks (and fix botched eBook conversions). More on this (and why I'm doing it) at the end of the series.
2 Full disclosure: I intend to announce Alliteration Ink's ability to get authors in both Kobo and the iBookstore this week, along with pricing. More on this (and why I'm doing it) at the end of the series.

Confusing Publishers & Timeline for eBook completion

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random.pngJust to clear up a bit of confusion that seems to have spread without my knowledge:

Last year, I pitched the idea of doing a GenCon anthology. The business and distribution model in my pitch resembled what I later used for The Crimson Pact.

The only portion of my pitch that was kept was that the participants in the Writer's Symposium all contributed stories.

After my original pitch, Stephen D. Sullivan (of Walkabout Publishing) took the concept and turned it into a print book. After the initial pitch, I had no input on the design, layout, business model, or any other aspect of that anthology or this year's. (In fact, I didn't start Alliteration Ink until months after GenCon.)

Probably because of the various "Steve" and "Stephen"'s floating around, at least one person got the two of us mixed up. I'd like to make sure credit (or blame, or wombats) go where they're due.

I am Steven Saus. I do eBook conversions, and as Alliteration Ink, I only do digital books, including The Crimson Pact. (And even that's not edited by me; all editing credit goes to Paul Genesse.)

Stephen D. Sullivan runs Walkabout Publishing. Aside from a story in Stalking The Wild Hare, I also have a story in Mages and Magic, both published by Walkabout Publishing.

Walkabout Publishing and Alliteration Ink are completely different entities, with different business models.

Okay, now moving on to everything else...

If you watch the Alliteration Ink website, you'll have noticed that Easter came and went without a note about Spec The Halls. Expect that at midsummer's eve instead.

I'm expecting to finish "So You Want to Make an eBook?" before Marcon (Memorial Day weekend) - at least, the blog portions of it. The finished eBook might be a bit later - say, first or second week of June.

I'll be making a BIG announcement in the next two days about Alliteration Ink.

This should be an interesting summer.

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The Boogers In My Nose - A Guest 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! This time from Chris the Nuclear Kid!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Chris did this all by himself. I'm still debating how much to encourage that.


The Boogers In My Nose


sneezeI could not smell anything. As I walk through the door I felt something ooze from my nose. I turned to face the bathroom mirror and saw a glob of green. It oozed even faster getting bigger, then fell off. But, it was big as a basketball!

It started to wiggle, so I backed away. Then, as the thing took form, it looked like a humanoid. It started to move towards me, but I grabbed the nasal spray and sprayed the thing. After a while there was nothing but a puddle of green. Thank goodness there had been a drain.

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Nasal Spray - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!


About to sneezeThe alien sneezed onto my faceplate and Karen gagged. I shrugged in my spacesuit. "They think it's weird we move air to communicate." My suit was already translating the booger's message for us. "With this planet's wind, you couldn't hear someone talking. The mucous transmission of pheromones - "

"I have a doctorate in xenobiology; don't mansplain it to me."

I realized I'd blown any chance of a date - and then I saw the nude human. "Garner's gone all nature hippie." Garner approached one of the aliens.

Karen gasped. "Oh crap. He's got allergies."

Garner sneezed on the alien.

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Avoid Digital Publishing Mistakes by Thinking of it as Investing

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publishing.pngThere's some shrillness going on around digital publishing - whether it's folks worrying about not getting a lot of money away, or the "fight" or "coming civil war" between DIY (or VIP or whatever) writers and the establishment (agents, publishers, all of the above). I'm not saying they're wrong - but it's far simpler than all that.

As Kris Rusch eloquently pointed out, traditional paper publishing worked on the "produce model". Books stayed on the shelves as long as it was "fresh" (or explicitly in demand), and then it became quite hard to find them afterward. 1

This explicitly means that authors had to create new works (save for the rare exception) in order to keep making a living.

Digital publishing isn't like that. Once a book is available for sale, it stays on sale as long as the author (or publisher) wants to have it there. No print runs, no warehouses, no "out of print". 2 Books no longer have to "go stale."

This change requires authors to look at their works as investments instead of as a product. This single change in viewpoint will help you decide what (if any) services you need, whether or not it's a good deal, and generally get by.

For example: I sock some money into a 401k from my day job. There's a company that handles investing it - I just put money in, and see quarterly reports out. They take a portion of the money in return for that expertise. Presumably, they want to make me money, because the better they do for me, the better they do for themselves. I could invest the money myself and not pay them any fees. However, in my particular situation, it wouldn't be worth it.

This is roughly akin to letting Amazon take their cut for the books I have at Amazon. Not only is the service valuable, but the more they promote me, the more money they make.

So far, easy. But here's where the mindset really makes it easy to avoid being "taken". I'll use three of the biggest problem areas in digital publishing to make my point.

ONE
It might be worthwhile to pay a tax preparer (or a program) to do my taxes. The time saved is useful, and it's $50 - $100 dollars. I do this. My mother doesn't - she knows how to do taxes well. Likewise, it might be worthwhile to pay someone to convert an eBook. My mother would have to (or spend the time to learn how). I wouldn't - it's something I do professionally.

I wouldn't pay someone a percentage of my yearly income AHEAD OF TIME to do my taxes. Neither should my mother pay someone a percentage of earnings to convert an eBook.

TWO
I would be very, very nervous if my 401k manager was buying stock in the company he works for. Likewise, you should be very, very nervous about an agent (or retailer, like Amazon) setting themselves up as a publisher.

THREE
I don't expect my 401k to suddenly turn into gold. Sometimes they might - if investments happen just right. But it's not worth betting on. Same with an eBook (or any book). Slow, steady returns for each investment. Keep putting more value (in money or books) into your investment, and see it slowly increase in value.

What traditional publishing (hell, anyone who gives an advance) has done was the equivalent of saying "we'll give you a lump sum payout for you signing your investment over to us."3 Sometimes that works in the author's benefit (every advance that doesn't "earn out"), sometimes in the publisher's benefit when it's a bestseller. DIY/VIP publishing is like investing your money yourself (or putting it under the mattress - and remember the last two bubbles before you laugh at that).

Some people would be more comfortable - or better served - by taking the lump sum payment. Others would not.

And that's what all this boils down to - being aware of the tradeoffs you're making. Perhaps someone would make more investing in a Roth IRA than a 401k - but we wouldn't talk about the "civil war" between Roth IRA advocates and 401k advocates. Maybe one person is able (or willing) to invest directly in the stock market, but another doesn't. As long as the parties involved know what they're doing and why, it's not a big deal.

To help guide you in your decisions about when, how, and why to digitally publish, think of it as an investment. There are pitfalls. There are scams. And there are lots of legitimate positions for people to take that are all successful.


1 There's actually good reasons for that model; if you're interested, she goes into detail about it on her blog.
2 That transition causes its own problems with contracts, by the way.
3 Well, sort of. You don't sign over everything with a traditional publisher, but this gets you the idea.

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Review: Inside Monastic Walls by Chante McCoy

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This is a review of a story in The Crimson Pact: Volume One. While I am the publisher of the book, I do not have a story in the text. I've also worked to keep all of these reviews as impartial as possible; I hope you agree.

If you wish to check out The Crimson Pact, stop by its website at http://thecrimsonpact.com. While it's only currently available in digital formats, if you have a computer, you can read this book. Not only is there a PDF version at the website, but you can read it on a free desktop reader from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

"Inside Monastic Walls" by Chanté McCoy is the first flash work in The Crimson Pact. It's going to be a bit of a tough job reviewing them, as flash fiction is typically defined as 1000 words or less, and these reviews have been around 250-400 words themselves!

"Inside Monastic Walls" takes us away from warriors, and instead shows us the viewpoint of a young servant boy in an ancient monastery. Everything is fine, until...

Well, you'll have to read it.

I scanned over many of the flash fiction works for this volume, and would occasionally make a small note to Paul Genesse, the editor, should I have had a strong impression about one. This story was sent to Paul with the note "You want to buy this story." It's that good, that creepy, and that disturbing... without resorting to cheap visceral tricks. It has the punch that good flash fiction is supposed to have, and lets you know that you're in for a hell of a ride.

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A timer/alarm clock and time-of-day wallpaper changer in BASH

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technology.pngSome days, I have a hard time sleeping. (I experience restless leg syndrome as pain - it is the suxx0rs.) Rather than just whining, I've been using the time to distract myself with writing bash scripts I'd meant to get to. (This are meant for *nix like systems - I'm not sure if they'll run on a Mac. I run Ubuntu 10.04 with Openbox as my window manager.)

This first one is a better version of my timer script with an alarm clock. It uses notify-send in order to give a popup, mktemp to create tempfiles, mpg123 to play an audible alarm, and zenity to create the snooze button. Instead of manually counting down the time in a terminal window, it uses the AT command to schedule a one-time task. Because that runs as root, I have to tell it to explicitly use the display for zenity - that's the export DISPLAY=:0.0; you see in the code below.

This probably isn't the greatest code, but it's pretty straightforward. Copy, edit, see what happens and what works. That's how you learn! The code for the timer/alarm clock is available at this link as a bash script.

So what's the second script? It's to change my wallpaper hourly - based on the time of day. it uses feh (more on how to use feh is at the Arch Wiki, a two liner bash script calculator that uses the bc command (below), and sunrise.c, which has compiling directions in the code.

I renamed the files in the directory with day_, night_, or trans_ at the beginning of the filename (example: "day_coolbackground.jpg") to allow sorting. The beauty is, I can keep adding cool backgrounds to that directory without worries.

The two-line calculator script is this:

#!/bin/bash
echo "scale=4; $1" | bc ; exit


but it's embedded in the file. You can find the bash script here. Just run it as an hourly crontab event, and work away!

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