Monday, May 23, 2011

First Foray Exporting an eBook

I'm beginning the process of releasing some of my stories to ePub format. Authors like Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Niomi Kritzer have released some of their short stories and novels for e-readers like the Nook and Kindle.  If I want to take advantage of indie publishing, it would be better to do it sooner, rather than later (and it appears I should have started six months ago), because it appears that eBooks now are at the cusp that web pages were in 1997.  If I don't establish a readership now, it will be exponentially harder to do so once everyone's grandparents and dogs are publishing.  (And yes, I intend to keep submitting to physical markets because there's something to be said for editorial filtering.)

Originally, I was going to release Mask Glass Magic, The View from the Top, Up, and a few non-professionally published stories in an anthology.   But I was persuaded by some Wordos to release each story as singles for ninety-nine cents and then offer a discount price anthology of all the works.

Luckily, I have a head-start with formatting because I've been using Scrivener.  I love Scrivener.  It's great for researching, outlining, and editing.   It's easy to break text up into sections, which helps me to focus on working on one scene at a time (instead of working and re-working a beginning).  Ease of sectioning off text makes it easy to deal with intruding chunks of other stories -- I can write what comes into my head, sequester it into its own section, and get back to the main story.   Scrivener remembers various manuscript formats: I have a default for Wordos Crititque, and a few others for the odd market that demands manuscripts be non-traditionally formatted.  And -- the important part for making an e-book --  Scrivener saves in ePub and other reader formats.

Creating a an ePub format file was pretty simple, especially after I watched this five minute YouTube Scrivener Tutorial

And then I ran into my first real snag.   I have no Kindle or Nook to double-check the formatting. The iMac we have is running older software, and the version of iTunes we have only plays audio books.   iTunes displayed the cover art I'd put together, but wouldn't open the book. What was interesting to notice was that the iTunes book cover looks like it wanted to be eleven by eight; I'd designed a cover with a photo that was more like five by eight.

I needed some sort of ePub reader. After skimming Ars Technia, I downloaded FBReader for Windows. With a little fiddling so FBreader knew where to find the ePub file, I opened up my test manuscript....

Uh, Wow. It's utilitarian. And it seems to be reading my manuscript backward? Or... no, I'm simply unused to the reader's interface.  And... okay, the reader is hyphenating the text depending on screen size.  Scrivener put in a table of contents that would be more useful if my first attempt had chapters or were an anthology.  My art looks okay, but the image -- an artsy photo of a tea infuser -- doesn't have much to do with the story -- a fantasy story set in modern Eugene. 

As Niomi points out in her blog, the reader, not the author/publisher controls the font face.  This is probably a good thing, because it will prevent type-face faux-paus (remember the mid-eighty's when the Macintosh let you print documents with Too Many Type-faces?  It wasn't pretty.)  But it makes formatting text to be slightly less catatonic a challenge.

It appears that there are some CSS tricks I can do to make the opening lines of sections more spiffy.  I would like to have the first letter in the first word be twice as large as a reader's normal font, and I'd like the first line to be SMALLCAPS.  Figuring out the CSS code for paragraphs will be the next step.

But there are a few questions I need to be clear about before I can start selling stories:

Can the Nook and Kindle can handle unicode 4.0 characters?  If yes, then I could use them for section breaks instead of blank spaces.

Where are the formatting controls in Scrivener again?  And what I'm doing is called galley work.  Which means I have to expand my notions of proper manuscript formatting and get used to seeing my prose with things like em-dashes, ellipses, and italics instead of double-single dashes, triple periods, and underlined text, respectively.  And, uh, whoa!  There's a missing word:  time to break out a paper copy and a red pen because I can't blame anyone else for production mistakes.

What's the best use of metadata.  If I want my books to sell, they need to be findable by search engines.  Metadata is where I put in tags and other search engine flags, and I need to make them work.  "John Burridge" would be one -- or should I put in my whole name so I don't have irate British soccer fans looking for Britain's Oldest Goalie.  "Fantasy" (at least for this story) is another.  But do I put in "Eugene, Oregon -- fiction" and "lampworking -- fiction"  and  should I put in a tag for a reprint's original publication (i.e. "Writers of the Future," "Analog" "Whidbey Student Choice"?) 

Oh, and about that cover art, what are the ideal book cover dimensions, anyway?

More as I figure stuff out.
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