Tag Archives: ebooks

Publishers Losing Control

Publishers are still relevant in the Amazon-dominated world of book retailing, but they are losing their influence in some of the most important areas of publishing — and they will either adapt or fade into the smallest niches.

Academic publishing is a huge industry, from peer-review journals to textbooks. There are also industry journals, which cater to a variety of fields and specialities. Publishers charge a lot for academic and industry publications because they can.

Over the next five years, and certainly within a decade, major universities with in-house “presses” and journals will migrate to digital editions. There are several content management systems (CMSs) designed specifically to manage academic journals and monographs. I anticipate that these systems will someday support numerous output formats from a single database of articles or chapters. If you need an e-book in ePub format, a few clicks later it will be transferred to your device or computer.

The Public Knowledge Project (http://pkp.sfu.ca) is one example of a set of open platforms targeting the academic publishing market. The applications are free and already popular among research universities around the globe. Other open software solutions and numerous commercial solutions exist. I’ve helped install many of these platforms; one or two good administrators can manage a complete publishing and online solution.

We’ve already seen self-published books for the mass market displace books from major publishing houses on Amazon. Self-published textbooks are starting to rise on Apple’s iTunes U. The publishers are losing control — so they can either adapt or fade away.

Industry organizations will also move to online, digital publishing. They won’t need to rely on massive publishing companies to print and distribute journals. Those organizations that are also publishers, and there are many, will also migrate to digital publishing. They will be forced to make content more affordable and more readily available.

As an aside, I hope writers aren’t among the losers in this shift to affordable distribution models. So far, moved to digital formats haven’t helped publishers or writers. We will need to find a way to balance the needs of writers with the needs of readers. Then again, academic publishers have seldom offered fair compensation to writers.

 

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Exploring iBooks Author Books and Templates

I’ve talked to a few authors and editors who wish to create custom templates for iBooks Author, well beyond what is possible making minor changes to fonts.

To create a custom template with altered background images and formatting, first create a simple iBook using an existing template.

If you are familiar with the ePub format, which is a compressed directory, you know there are several folders within the ePub. These folders contain what might be compared to a self-contained website. I like the ePub structure and wish iBooks were closer to that format than they are. But, Apple goes its own way. The iBooks format is much simpler than ePubs.

Do you wonder what is inside an iBooks “iba” file? To find out, do the following:

    1. Copy your “.iba” (I use the Apple-D “Duplicate” command in Finder)
    2. Change the extension from “.iba” to “.zip”
    3. Double-click the “.zip” file, which will uncompress the folder
    4. Explore the new folder

First, you will notice there are a lot of files. In the iBook I tested for this analysis, there were 16,720 files and one folder. That’s why I suggest using a nearly empty book to craft a custom template.

The entire text of the book, layout information, and revision data reside in two files:

    buildVersionHistory.plist
    index.xml

The “index.xml” can be opened in any text editor. If you open this file, you can skim through the file until you see the text of your book. While the ePub format supports chapters or sections as individual files, the Apple approach places everything in one huge XML file. Again, I prefer the ePub standard instead of placing everything in one disorganized folder.

The only subdirectory / folder that Apple creates in the iBooks format is named “QuickLook.” The folder contains thumbnail images of the book. This is interesting because the mail folder also contains a long list of thumbnail images. In the sample book I am using for this analysis, the thumbnails in the main folder are named KFPageThumbnail-XXX.jpeg, where the XXX ranges from 1 to 650.

In the example books I have explored, there are some images that seem to exist no matter what. These image files are:

    slate_green.jpg
    slate_grey.jpg
    slate_light-grey.jpg
    slate_rust.jpg
    slate_tan.jpg
    slate_yellow.jpg

I don’t know what the purpose of the “slate” set of images might be, but they appear in three different books I created using a mix of templates. Maybe someone else can dig into these?

There are also several other image files. These seem to be the images used for the various templates, based on my explorations. These files are different in each template. The design files in the book used for this example are:

    Background-1.jpg
    Colored_paper_backgrounds-1.jpg
    Light-parchment-paper_a-1.jpg
    Photo 2.jpg
    Photo 6.jpg
    Shape1.png

Three Adobe/Apple color profiles are also in the book folder:

    color-profile
    color-profile-1
    color-profile-2

If you want to craft a custom template, you need to alter the files in this uncompressed iBook folder. For example, you could change the “Background-1.jpg” to a background of your own design. Match the size of the existing file, though. Don’t worry about things like “DPI” or other settings in a graphics program: focus on the pixel-by-pixel size, such as 1024-by-768 pixels used by the original iPad screens.

Once you have changed images or made other tweaks, you can then compress the file back into a “.zip” format. Changing “.zip” to “.iba” makes the compressed folder an “iBook” again, a document you can open and edit in iBooks Author.

Again, the steps are:

    1. Create an “empty” shell book using an existing template.
    2. Duplicate the file and change the extension to “.zip” so it can be decompressed.
    3. Decompress the iBook into a folder you can edit.
    4. Alter or replace any images you wish to customize.
    5. Compress the modified folder.
    6. Change the extension from “.zip” back to “.iba” to open the file in iBooks Author.
    7. Open the new file in iBooks Author and save it as a template!

You now have a customized template.

For a discussion on creating a template, read the following thread in the Apple Discussion Forums:

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3677610

Some iBooks Author Thoughts

I have been working in iBooks Author and finding it fairly good for basic tasks. However, the moment you want a bit extra from the program, it does fall short. Then again, the ePub 2 format also falls short in numerous areas.

The “.iba” (iBooks) and “.epub” formats are nothing more than standard compressed “zip” files containing various folders and files of HTML, images, fonts, and more. The structures are well documented, but not simple to edit and update without a good tool.

Let me acknowledge that some of the “problems” I experience with ePub/iBook formats are limitations that will require some re-imagining of the book format. The issues arise because eBooks in various formats are designed to allow the *reader* more control of content than the designer. The eBook concept is reader-centered, not designer centered.

The reader can change orientation (portrait vs. landscape), magnification, typefaces, font sizes, and screen colors (inverse, for example, when white-on-black is preferable than black on white). With everything a reader can do, the layout of a book is dynamic, not static.

My mind is already pondering how eBook generators could be improved.

A dynamic book, at least with current tools, cannot display footnotes or marginalia easily. My opinion is that references should “pop-up” the full citation, which for now means coding in HTML. I’d prefer an easier method that not only adds a pop-up, but it would be great to add citations to a bibliography and include links to works available via various booksellers.

I suppose a simple script can be added to the eBook pages, just like you might use for website pop-up definitions. I’ll certainly be testing the idea for my current projects.

The dynamic pages also make indices difficult. You cannot link to “page numbers” because the numbers change. For now, creating links to anchors within the text is the best solution I can imagine. Links are not a perfect solution, but they are a solution.

Again, hand-coding links is not horrible, but can’t this be automated? The programming logic is straightforward: given a word or phrase, find it and create a link. The text of the link could be the chapter and section numbers, since page numbers won’t help readers. An example index entry might read: Fonts; Ch 1 Sec 2, Ch 2 Sec 1. It isn’t as convenient as page numbers at first glance, but remember that these would be hyperlinks to the anchors. I plan to use this approach for a book we’re converting at this moment.

To use the “anchor” approach, you do need to keep track of anchors somehow. I suppose the anchors would be something like this: “#fonts_1″, “#fonts_2″, and so on, incremented for each new occurrence of the indexed word and not associated with a chapter or section since text can be moved. The index generator would have to track locations, though.

Most eBook generators create decent tables of content, but they don’t easily generate tables of figures or lists of tables. I’d like those features, too. Yet more “auto-generation” based on anchors, ids, and styles, I would suggest.

None of the missing features would be difficult to add to eBook generators. Already, iBooks Author includes a glossary tool. Why not add some of the other common textbook features?

Once the features are added, let’s do something about the pain and misery required to create custom templates. Why don’t the eBook tools, including iBooks, do a better job with the CSS they generate? I’ve used Pages, InDesign, Sigil, and iBooks to create eBooks. I’ve also used Scrivener. Without question, the bare minimum ePub generated by Scrivener was the best of the bunch — because it was simple. I used the Oxygen XML editor to tweak the CSS in a Scrivener ePub and was pleased.

We all mix-n-match software applications for the best possible results. We create images in Illustrator or Photoshop, edit long texts in Word, and finish the layout of a book with InDesign or QuarkXPress. But, I consider the CSS aspect of eBooks similar to the styles of InDesign or Word. Why should I need another program to tune simple CSS, with only a handful of styles?

In time, iBooks Author and similar tools will add the features I want. Even with fine-tuning and hand-coding, eBooks are much easier to create and distribute than traditional printed books.

Interview with Mystery Writer Brad Geagley

Brad Geagley is the author of two mysteries published by Simon & Schuster: Year of the Hyenas (2005) and Day of the False King (2006).

Brad has recently written and self-published a new, noir thriller, The Stand In, which  appeared on Kindle and eBook in December 2011. The new mystery is set in Hollywood in 1957, is bursting with murder, intrigue and suspense.

As an established author who decided to take self-publishing into his own hands, we’re interviewing Brad about his decision to self-publish ebooks.

What can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a writer.  Baby Boomer.  I worked in the Entertainment Industry for many years as a Producer, ending up as a VP of Production for a firm located in New York City.  Lived down the street from the World Trade Center, and watched the towers fall.  Decided I couldn’t put off my writing career any longer.  Four books published.  One play produced.  I love Ancient Egyptian, French, and American history.  I’m an expert on the 1963 film “Cleopatra” and currently live in Palm Springs, CA.

What can you tell us about your book(s)? We see that you are writing in the noir style of the 1940s. What authors were your inspiration? Are you fan of Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and other authors from this period and style?

I can’t say that I’m writing in the noir style, though I love Raymond Chandler and, particularly, James M. Cain, who wrote Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity – what a storyteller!  In fact, the more that I think about it my style is, in this instance, more Cain than Spillane (Ha – I rhymed!). The Stand In is set in Hollywood of the 1950s and we put it into the hard-boiled category for readers because that’s usually the decade when all those kinds of stories occur.  For modern mysteries and thrillers I have one author to whom I always turn for inspiration and guidance – Martin Cruz Smith (who wrote the Gorky Park series, and many other novels.)  Other authors who have influenced me are Shirley Jackson (the so-called Virginia Werewolf of American Fiction), Pearl Buck, Patrick Dennis and Gore Vidal.

Do you use any organizational software for writing?

For screenplays (I teach “Writing for Film” at Mt. San Antonio College) and plays I use Final Draft 8.  All of my prose is composed in Microsoft Word.  That’s about it.

Do you set specific daily hours or word count goals for yourself?

I start work about 8:00 in the morning, having finished the New York Times and the Washington Post, during which I have downed copious amounts of black coffee.  The muse joins me and I work until about 11:30 a.m., then resume work at 1:30 p.m. and work until 4:00.  Sometimes, if I’m on a roll, I work in the evenings, too.  But I try to quit at least an hour before I go to bed, simply because the process of writing jazzes me up so much I can’t go to sleep directly afterward.  I try to write three usable pages per day, though I’ve done as much as thirty.  (That occurs, usually, during the thrilling conclusion of a novel – I’m going so fast I can’t stop.)

Why self-publishing? Was the decision difficult?

I lost my editor, the sublime and legendary Michael Korda, during a palace coup at Simon & Schuster.  The editor to whom I was then assigned was merely an assistant who was promoted to editor-hood during the shake-up.  I wanted to write history, she wanted chick-lit.  The twain did not meet.  The Author’s Guild had been telling us writers for years that, with the Internet, we no longer needed publishers; that we could target our audiences even more specifically than before.  I was also appalled at the amounts of money the publishers collected above and beyond what the author made – a factor of 10 to 1.  I simply want to see if I can do better than that.  If not, then I will go back to traditional publishing.  The Stand In is a bit of an experiment.

What were the challenges of self-publishing?

Basically, the challenges are to replicate the services provided by a publishing house; editing, proof-reading, design, and publicity (with particular emphasis on the latter.)  I’m also consistently surprised at how many legitimate newspapers and book review sites do NOT cover digital literature.  That will change, though, as the sales for downloaded books are now exceeding that of hardbound books.  As with music and movies, the public will soon have to content itself with purchasing an experience, and not a physical object.

Did you use a service to create the various eReader formats?

I used Bookbaby.  Though they’ve been responsive to my inquiries, they offer no way to track the sales, but then neither did Simon & Schuster.  I’ve adopted a “wait and see” policy as to whether or not I will use them again.

Did you hire other experts, such as an editor or cover artist?

I work with a wonderfully gifted online PR/Publicity agent, Ms Cynthia Copeland, who handles all the online promotion for me – I could never navigate the opportunities that she has found and exploited there.  (For anyone looking to hire a publicist/PR person for their book, I enthusiastically recommend her.  She can be contacted at cynthiacopeland@mac.com)  Cynthia, in turn, found a cover artist for me, Augusto Ferriols, who created a wonderful book cover for me.

Some genres are doing better as eBooks than others. How is the mystery genre performing?

I have no idea.  I know that the Authors Guild, when advising self-publication, was speaking at the time about non-fiction.  Fiction still needed shelf-space in a book store.  Now, with all the book chains disappearing, fiction writers need to do all they can to find (or re-find) their audience.  Luckily, I have a following who knows my work and with any luck they have purchased eReaders. Mystery readers are avid readers and intensely loyal.  I love them and know they will find their favorites – of which, I hope, I am one.

How are you handling the marketing? What are you doing personally and what is your agent doing?

I write a blog at www.bradgeagley.net and have developed a surprising amount of followers.  (I have to admit that I was opposed to writing a blog, simply because I thought it took up the time I needed for “real work”.  But I find that writing it is both inspirational and energizing.  It’s far more personal writing, too, and I like that it’s part confessional, part lectern.  Very fun.)

With Cynthia’s help and guidance, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Shelfari. Cynthia lets me know of other writers to follow, other blogs to comment on, and has found sites like yours where I can share a few words with your readers (and hopefully entice them into purchasing The Stand In – its premise being, what would a movie studio do if they found out that the leading man on their very troubled wide-screen production might well be a serial killer?  How would they protect their film, their studio – their leading lady?  The answer, hint hint, is in the title.)

Brad Geagley
On Twitter at @BradGeagley
amazon.com/author/bradgeagley
https://bradgeagley.wordpress.com/

Creating eBooks with Free Tools

The future is digital, no matter how much we might resist. My wife and I will always be “book” readers. You know, those things that collect a bit of dust, take up space, and weigh a lot. There is and always will be something nice about the tactile act of reading a book.

But, I’ve created ebooks and will publish many more in the years ahead. Lately, small groups have been asking if I would present on how to create an ebook.

I can offer whatever training is needed for those interested, but the training isn’t that involved. In fact, the new, easy-to-use tools are why so many of my colleagues in book and magazine design are losing their jobs. Too many of my friends and colleagues didn’t make the transition to online publishing because the skills differ from those we needed in print.

The publishing world is definitely changing. I posted an ebook with a very narrow audience on Amazon and sold over 1000 copies last year. For those of us with decades of experience in the print publishing world, this causes both excitement and anxiety. Truly, anyone can be a publisher.

The tools required for online publishing change based on your distribution goal. Sadly, Amazon, Apple, and other distributors cannot agree on a single file format. The best books are assembled two or three times, so they can be sold via several distribution channels (such as iTunes and Amazon).

The good news: the tools are generally free and easy to use.

To create ePub files that work with almost every eReader sold (except the Kindle), you can use Sigil. This is a free tool from Google and works with Windows, Mac, and Linux. To download Sigil and create your own ePub book: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list

The ePub format is used by the B&N Nook, Kobo, Sony, and most other readers. Even the iPad and iPhone can read ePub files, or you can use the free Nook app on the iPad/iPhone to read an ePub.

To create iBook files (which are ePub files with some extra Apple features), you do need a Mac and an iPad. The free creation tool is iBooks Author: http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/

The iBooks Author creates the best-looking ebooks I’ve seen. My wife and I have used desktop publishing tools since the 1980s, and nothing has ever been as amazing as iBooks Author. (We use InDesign for print publishing and PDF creation, but PDFs are lousy as ebooks.)

Sigil and iBooks Author are no more difficult than using Microsoft Word. The thing to remember is that ebooks are not about pretty designs. The user can change the font, page colors, and more. It frustrates designers, but readers (and many authors) are glad that the focus is on readability and usability.

Amazon makes creating a decent Kindle book a royal pain. You do need to edit the raw HTML, XML, and CSS to make the book work properly. There is an InDesign “plug-in” for Kindle, but our experience is that the files still require hours of hand editing to work on all Kindle models properly. (The black and white Kindle doesn’t even do “grayscale” images well.)

If you want to learn about the Kindle tools:
https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A3IWA2TQYMZ5J6

I have made the journey from etching offset plates to phototypesetting to ePub creation. Each step of the way, the industry changed dramatically. More people can publish today than ever before, yet fewer people are “professionals” in the publishing industry full-time. I’ve also co-owned bookstores and my wife’s sister still owns a small bookshop. It is worse than brutal to be in any business related to publishing.

People ask if I am a “writer” and I always answer, “It depends.” The truth is that today’s writer has to be a designer, editor, agent, and publisher. You learn that the more skills you have, the more likely you are to win freelance contracts or full-time assignments.

Maybe one of my ebooks will do well. Maybe not. But it won’t cost us much to create them and we won’t be “sharing” the money with dozens of experts from a publishing house.

I always recommend hiring an editor or consultant to help with the digital publishing, mainly because we all need an editor. However, even with the cost of professional editing and cover design, the cost to publish has never been this low.

(Of course, we’d appreciate it if you considered working with us!)