making eBooks

eBooks are still a bit of a headache for me. Smashwords helps.  Last year I had to manually convert my books into 8 different formats (each) by hand.  Actually, I just quit after I hit 8 formats.  There are a few other formats I couldn’t manage to get my books converted to for free.  Now, I’m thinking maybe I only have to re-create each book 3 times: I take the paperback (which gives me 1 PDF), convert it once to make a printable PDF, once for the kindle, and once more for Smashwords, which will then give me my book back in eight more formats.  (All DRM-free, of course!)

The PDFs are easy.  I already have to do the work in InDesign to create the paperback, and Adobe software loves to output nice PDFs.  Adobe recently announced that they’re updating their software soon to create epub files easily, which would be nice, but Smashwords seems to do a better job, right now.  Note to people not in publishing: epub is the future of eBooks.

Making a well-formatted document for the kindle is … well, I’m getting better at it. Luckily I’m not doing anything fancy with my books.  No charts, no pictures, no tables, no complex layouts… well, not in the books I’ve been putting in, so far.  My poetry can wait.  Because it’s going to be a headache, and probably won’t ever sell in volume sufficient to cover the value of the time I’ll have to spend to get it looking right on the kindle (and will never look good in most other eBook formats).  I’m just putting novels in. Still, I have to go through each book line by line manually marking it up.  Then, because the kindle has a limited range of fonts and doesn’t support extended characters, I have to go through basically character by character and -in some cases- not only change to characters without diacritical marks where I’d used them in the original text, but also rewrite entire sections where the use of specialized fonts and unsupported characters are actually integral to the text.


Last year, before Smashwords, I would have had a similarly frustrating process to go through six more times, once for each of the other formats’ idiosyncratic proprietary requirements.  Now, by simply doing a quick find-and-replace of Amazon’s proprietary page break tags with a few line break tags, I can upload the well-formatted HTML file I created for the kindle version to Smashwords and -pretty much- get a good output within a few minutes.  It’s still lacking the extended characters and custom fonts of the original/paperback version, but most of the eBook formats don’t support that stuff, either.

I’m still developing a “workflow” for eBooks, probably go through and do the main markup in one pass, then save it out as two files & add the kindle markup to one (& remove special characters) and the Smashwords markup to the other.  I’m not really much for “workflows” but its something I’ve been thinking a bit about, lately.  At Tools of Change 2009, there were multiple, competing products in the exhibition hall & various presentations trying to help publishers manage their “workflows.”  At the upcoming ABPA conference (which I don’t plan on attending), one of the six sessions (the rest of which are trying to address the future of publishing via subjects like: alternative and online sales channels, online and social marketing, et cetera) is about creating and managing production workflows.  Apparently this is a problem area for publishers.  Apparently, solving the “workflow” problem is a very cutting edge, future-of-publishing sort of issue.

So I’m thinking about it.  Workflow.  Huh.  I’ve got some notes.  Maybe if I “plan” a “workflow” for my next book, it’ll go more smoothly?

What am I talking about?  The main hiccups in my last two books’ production were 1) Lightning Source not meeting their contractually stated production schedules and 2) volunteer, unpaid proofreaders taking unpredictable periods of time to get back to me.  One of these things I can’t effect, and the other I can only fix by spending money I can’t afford to spend.  Maybe I should add “wait an indefinite period for proofreaders” to my workflow.  Or maybe I’ll research reasonable time periods professional, freelance proofreaders take and how much they charge and negotiate expectations and/or my budget to find a reasonable solution.  Otherwise, my production of books works pretty smoothly.

I seem to have gone off topic.  Sorry, it’s late.  Maybe I’ll go to bed.  Ooh, but first I should link to my latest eBooks.  The eBook of Forget What You Can’t Remember is available in the Kindle Store for less than $8.99, at Smashwords for $3.99, and for those of you who can’t afford that price or don’t have a credit card, as a free eBook in a whole mess of formats.  The eBook of More Lost Memories, a companion collection of short stories, is available in the Kindle Store for less than $8.35, at Smashwords for $3.99, and if you can’t afford that price or don’t have a credit card you can email me for a free copy.  Enjoy:

I’ll be re-working all the eBooks I did last year soon, too, to get them on Smashwords.  I’m excited about Smashwords largely because of their partnership with Lexcycle – which is to say, because it makes my eBooks available for sale to iPhone users, in an iPhone-compatible format, and through an increasingly easy-to-use iPhone app-based storefront.  If you have an iPhone, download Stanza and take a look for yourself!