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ebooks

Publishing

A rant about book formatting

And oh yeah, one other thing I wanted to post about today: my current levels of frustration with badly formatted ebooks.

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about author Aliette de Bodard, and so I snapped up her Obsidian and Blood books from Angry Robot. The entire prospect of a trilogy set in the ancient Aztec Empire, combining elements of both fantasy and a murder mystery, struck me as too damned tempting to pass up. ‘Cause I mean seriously, how often do you get to string “Aztec-mythos fantasy murder mystery” into the description of a book?

Problem is, as I discovered when I delved into book 1, the ebook is very badly laid out. By which I mean, paragraphs that are barely indented, making it almost impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins–and in some cases, paragraphs that are split partway through. When I dug into the ebook to see what the hell was going on in there, I found that all the paragraphs were laid out as <div> blocks rather than <p>, and that what indentation there was was being done via two non-breaking spaces. Which was not done consistently, either. Every so often there would be none, and every so often three.

Which was a damn shame, because the book is quite good, or at least that’s been my impression on my attempt to slog through the initial chapters and follow the action. The layout though was frustrating enough to me that I went through the whole damn thing in Calibre and fixed the formatting, just so I could read it. I’m going to start over from the beginning now, with paragraph indents I can actually see, and give the story the attention it deserves.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this, either. One of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker books (about which I have enthused quite a bit in the past) had the deeply baffling problem of every single Q throughout the book being capitalized. ALL of them. At the beginnings of words and in the middle as well. This was hugely distracting.

Likewise the ebook copy I tried to buy of The Green Glass Sea–wherein the whole damn thing was italicized, because somebody forgot to close a tag at the front of the book. And then there was the superlatively crappy OCR job somebody did on Elizabeth Peters’ The Falcon at the Portal, wherein the accented characters in the occasional German word in the dialogue were broken. And even worse, the character Selim kept being called “Scum” in the text, because whatever they used to do the OCR conversion choked on his name.

My overall point here being: c’mon, publishers, do better.

I’ve got the technical chops to be able to get into a book and clean it up, so that I can fix a broken digital reading experience. Since I’m a QA Engineer in my day job, I understand HTML and CSS, and I know what to do to fix problems with them. But I shouldn’t have to. When I buy a book, I’m putting down my money for the expectation that I will be delivered a story that’ll entertain me for the span of time it takes me to read it. I should not have to crack open that file and spend several extra hours on top of the actual reading time, cleaning it up so that I can actually get back to what I paid for in the first place: i.e., the story.

AND: not everybody has the same skills I do. A non-techie reader has no recourse in scenarios like this but to either a) slog through a poor reading experience in the hopes that the story will outweigh the broken formatting, or b) return a clearly broken ebook and go buy print instead, if they really want to read that book. Which, okay, yeah, it’s another sale and that’s all good for the author and all–but it’s potentially still very inconvenient to the reader, depending on their book budget and whether they have any issues at all reading in print, e.g., vision problems or what have you.

Moreover, speaking as a small-fry digital and indie author, it’s deeply frustrating to me to see so much brouhaha over how self-pubbed authors are so often putting up badly formatted, unprofessional material–yet to turn around and see the big publishers still sometimes doing the same damned thing.

I beg you, publishers, take the time to quality-check your digital productions. Load them up on different devices to make sure they are actually readable. Hire people who know HTML and CSS and who can fix problems that arise.

And, fellow indie authors, the same goes for you. If you’re going the indie route, and you’re going to publish digitally, review your layout. If you don’t have the technical chops to fix problems, recruit friends who do. Ask your social circle who has what ereaders and who can sanity check your book for you on them. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But it’s part and parcel of producing a book that makes you look like you know what you’re doing, and an indie author has to work even harder than a traditionally published one to hit that goal. So do that work.

Your readers, technically inclined or otherwise, will thank you.

Publishing

Regarding Kindle Unlimited

Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited service, which is basically their attempt to do Netflix for ebooks as far as I can tell, has been getting a lot of attention in the publishing world. Reactions, from what I’ve seen so far, are quite mixed. (Mr. Scalzi, for example, has an interesting writeup on the topic over here.) So here’s mine.

With my reader hat on, I’m feeling right now like this service won’t be useful to me, since it doesn’t really address how I interact with ebooks. If there’s a book I want to read that I don’t want to put down money for up front, I already have a way to address that: the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System, both of which are very friendly to ebook checkouts. Granted, this doesn’t always work, since there are some books that these two systems might not actually have and which I could in theory immediately grab via Kindle Unlimited if I were so inclined.

But here’s the thing. If there’s a book I want to read ASAP, chances are very high that it’s by an author who’s already on my buy list. In which case, if I want it, I’ll be buying it. If it’s not an author I know already, chances are equally high that said book is competing with the several hundred other things on my To Read list, and it’ll come off the queue when I get to it. If the library systems don’t have it, I can generally wait till they do.

And if I happen to become unemployed again, the service becomes even more superfluous. $9.99 a month isn’t much if you have a regular, well-paying job. But if you don’t, every new dollar adds up. And this would be one of the first expenses I’d drop if I happened to be a subscriber who suddenly lost her job.

Really, though, when you get right down to it, I’m perfectly happy to use the library for books I’m not sure I want to buy yet. And if it becomes a question of “who gets my money”, I’d just as soon donate to the library rather than blow $9.99 a month for access to books I will most likely not actually read in any given month.

Because I mean, seriously, people, there are currently over 1,200 titles on my Goodreads To Read shelf. Many of which I already own, and most of the rest of which I can grab from the library when necessary. I’m not seeing much need to blow $9.99 a month on top of that to get access to those books via some other mechanism.

Meanwhile, with my author hat on, my reactions are mixed. Whether my titles with Carina show up on this service is beyond my control. If Harlequin elects to deploy Carina titles to the service, it’s certainly possible that I might get a few extra pennies I might not otherwise get, which is fine. (Though at the level at which I currently operate, yeah, a few extra pennies would be what I’d have to expect here.)

And as y’all know, since I’m not publishing Faerie Blood exclusively with Amazon, that title certainly won’t be getting out there. So in regards to my self-published stuff, Kindle Unlimited isn’t a benefit to me at all.

How about y’all? Anybody out there going to sign up for this thing, as a writer OR a reader?

Uncategorized

Monday news roundup: Memes, Amazon vs. Hachette, and Jay Lake

I’m not quite convinced that participation in a meme still counts if you get tagged twice for the same thing–but that said, I’ve been re-tagged on the Writing Process one, specifically by M.M. Justus, who put up her post on the meme right over here.

And in case you missed it, my post on the meme went up in April, and you can find it here.

***

I’m continuing to see a lot of sound and fury bouncing around re: the Amazon-Hachette dispute. B&N is apparently taking advantage of this by doing a Buy 2, Get One Free deal on affected books. So just in case something from a Hachette author is on your personal buy list, you might check this out.

Meanwhile, I was pointed at this post on the matter, in which the author is quite well and firmly on Amazon’s side. I was asked for my thoughts, and can sum them up pretty much thusly: I feel that particular writer has some cogent points re: the good things Amazon’s doing for authors. But on the other hand, I’m still not cool about the strongarm tactics they’ve been using against Hachette. My overall point remains that at the end of the day, when entities as big as Amazon and Hachette go at it, the people who are ultimately hurt by this are still authors–who can’t sell their stuff via Amazon–and readers, who can’t buy the books they may want to get.

And as a general reminder, if you want to read ebooks, Amazon is not your only option. There’s B&N. There’s Kobo. There’s the iBookstore, if you’re an Apple user. There’s Google Play, if you’re Android-inclined. There are device-agnostic places like Smashwords, and there are all sorts of publishers and imprints who sell directly on their own sites–like, of course, Carina. But I also heartily recommend the good folks at Angry Robot, Book View Cafe, and of course savvy longer-term, ebook-reading SF/F fans will be aware that Baen was a pioneer in the DRM-free ebook arena. Likewise, many authors are publishing their own backlists (e.g., Doranna Durgin, highly regarded in these parts). And many small presses may well be selling their own ebooks as well.

Long story short, a judicious ebook-buyer doesn’t have to be constrained to any one device. Do a bit of research and you may well find something awesome you want to read, available in a way that will let you get more money into the hands of the author.

***

Last but not least, for those who may have missed the news yesterday, Jay Lake finally succumbed to his fight with cancer. The SF/F community will be grieving for him for a while, I think. I’m continuing to see people posting about him all over the Internet, which just goes to show that his impact on the greater SF/F community was deep indeed. I particularly appreciated commentary I’ve seen from people who’ve also been fighting cancer, and who found him to be an inspiration–and also, just from readers who are grateful that his works remain as his legacy. If a writer has to go, I think leaving behind a lot of fans who’ll miss you and treasure your books is a decent way to do it.

My own brief post about this is here, and I reiterate my condolences to all who knew Mr. Lake, whether as a loved one, a friend, or an author.

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6.2: Adobe Digital Editions on Linux

I’m dedicating a small post to this just because userinfotechnoshaman asked me about this a while back, and I never did answer his comment on that. (Apologies, Glenn!) He asked me at that time:

Any word on how tricky it is to get ADE to run with Wine? This is, of course, relevant to my interests!

I waffled on answering this in no small part because I didn’t actually know. I don’t normally run Linux as a desktop OS at home, although I have an Ubuntu VM on my Macbook, so I had no firsthand information. But that said, one of the lovely things about the Linux community is that if you have a question that needs settling, chances are somebody out there has investigated that problem and has a solution or at least a workaround.

A judicious bit of Googling therefore got me this thread on the Ubuntu forums, wherein users are discussing ADE on Linux via WINE. It dates back to 2008-2009, but given that I still haven’t heard that Adobe plans to do a Linux version of ADE any time soon, (and, for that matter, I haven’t seen a new build of ADE in a while either), I’d say it’s a safe bet the information therein is still reasonably current.

Anybody out there who does have firsthand experience running ADE on Linux, or who is aware of any Linux-based solutions for checking out ebooks from libraries, do speak up!

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6.1: More on checking out library books

I totally fell over finishing these posts up, but would like to get back to this series of posts now that I have new data to add to them courtesy of my recent iPad. And, conveniently enough, that ties back into the last post I did, which was about how to check out library ebooks!

I have discovered to my pleasure that there’s an iPhone/iPad app called Overdrive Media Console. This thing talks to Adobe DRM, and will go out and yoink down ebooks for you from any library websites that are compatible with the app. Here’s what you do:

  • Go install the app from the App Store.
  • If you don’t have one already, create an Adobe ID so you can authorize your i-Device to unlock Adobe DRM books.
  • Log into the app with your Adobe ID, and let it authorize your device.
  • Click the “Get Books” button up in the right hand corner to search for library websites. I found mine with little effort, and once you’ve found your library, the app should add it to your list.
  • You can then use the app to load your library’s website (it’ll open in Safari). In my case, that loaded in Safari and gave me a mobile version of the site, hooked into the app.
  • Log in with your library’s website credentials so you can get at your account.
  • Use the website’s systems, whatever they may be, to download items you check out. In my case, when testing this tonight, I had two books checked out and was able to simply tap the Download button on each to have them come straight down into the app.
  • Read!

This was, in short, awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I actually prefer reading on the Nook (for various reasons I’ll get into in the next post in the series), but getting the library books onto the iPad was so much easier and less headachy than getting them onto the Nook that I will probably do this for all future library checkouts. The main point of headache for Nook-based checkouts, the painful ADE app Mac-side, is completely bypassed this way. I would definitely recommend this for my fellow i-Device owners.

Now, here’s the best part: this app is not exclusive to i-Devices, either. There are desktop versions for both Windows and Mac, AND there are mobile versions for Android and Windows Mobile users as well. Check out these other versions, people, and report in on how well they work for you!

All of this does of course assume that you have a valid account on whatever library system you’re checking out books from, so be sure and handle that separately from getting the app installed. You may need to hunt around a bit to find a library system you can use, if your local one doesn’t support electronic checkouts. Y’all please feel free to report in on what library sites you like, whether or not they allow checkouts from persons who don’t live in the area, and anything else you’d like to share!

As a last note, thus far my library experiences with ebooks are limited to the Nook and to my iPad. So if folks out there are aware of other systems that allow interesting ebook checkouts, share those too!

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 6: How to check out library ebooks

This is part 6 of my posts on how to read ebooks. Here I’ll get into how to check out ebooks from libraries that support that, and what you need to be able to do this. Basically, you will need two things: Adobe Digital Editions, and an account with the library of your choice (which must be set up to do ebook checkouts).

I mentioned ADE in my previous ebooks post, so will just briefly repeat here that ADE is supported on Windows and Mac computers. (Linux users, you’ll have to run it via WINE, I fear.) It supports both EPUB and PDF files, and the list of ereaders it supports is over here. The major ereaders I’m aware of that ADE supports are the nook, the Sony readers, and the Kobo.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: the Kindle is NOT supported by ADE, and to the best of my knowledge, that’s because of Amazon using its own proprietary DRM format. So right now, Kindle users aren’t able to use ADE to check out library books. This may change if the Kindle picks up EPUB support, though. Kindle users, if any of you are aware of alternate means through which you can check out ebooks, drop me a comment and let me know!)

Now, in order to be able to check out books from an ebook-capable library, you will of course need an account with that library. You’ll want to check out the website of your local library and see if they have a “Downloads” or “Digital” or “Ebooks” section, and if so, you should be able to follow their procedures for getting an account set up. (Some libraries may allow out-of-area access to users who want to check things out over the net as well, so even if you don’t live in the area of a library you’re interested in, find their website anyway. You may still be able to get an account.)

Once you have ADE set up on your computer and an account with the library you want to get content from, you’ll basically want to follow the library website’s directions for how to check out a digital book. You’ll want to look for either EPUB or PDF files, depending on what ebook format you’re better able to read.

What you’ll wind up downloading though will be a stub file, not that actual book. Once you’ve downloaded that file, you’ll want to open ADE and then doubleclick the stub file download, so that ADE can then open up the actual book with the timestamp on it that says how long you’re allowed to have it. (Note: On my system, I’ve had to be careful to open ADE first, otherwise I get error messages that claim I need to download an update I don’t actually need. Your mileage may vary depending on your system.)

Once ADE has the book, you can read it right there on your computer. However, if you want to copy it down to your ereader, you can also do that via ADE. If your ereader is plugged into one of your computer’s USB ports, ADE should see it (one more note: you may need to plug in the device first and then launch ADE; I have that problem with my nook). And if ADE can see it, you should be able to just copy the library book right down to the device.

And then you can read! You should be able to use ADE to delete the file off the device when you’re done with it, and you can also use ADE to “return” the book as well.

For the next post in this series, I’ll talk a bit about various technical differences between devices I’m familiar with, and how difficult it is to get books onto them.

Ebooks and Ereaders

How to read ebooks, Part 5: How to read ebooks on your computer

Say you want to get into ebooks but you’re not sure what reading device you want to buy yet. Don’t worry, you’re not out of luck! If you’re reading this post at all you still have the ability to read ebooks right in front of you: i.e., on your computer. This post is all about your options for doing so, with a final addendum about the incredibly helpful ebook management program Calibre.

Readers, please feel free to drop comments on this post with your own recommendations for ereading clients!

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