Friday, March 30, 2012

The eBook Tango

A logo I have designed for the Children’s Literature Hawai‘i Conference this coming June, 
in which I’ll talk about my tango with ebooks and PODs

By now I had hoped to have several print-on-demand books [POD’s] available on Amazon and an equal number sitting on the digital bookshelves of the Apple bookstore, but I do not. Not yet, anyway.

It turns out that POD’s don’t quite measure up to my standards of what a children’s picture book should look like and ebooks are just too darn hard to make.

First POD’s. These are quite simple to make. By this, I mean, once you have done the writing and the illustrating and the book designing, it is but a tap of a button, if you are using Adobe InDesign, to turn what you have created into a press-ready PDF and send it off to either CreateSpace []or Lightning Source []. Within minutes, or so it seems, either company will send you a paper proof of the book, and, depending on how much you want to pay for shipping, you will see your proof in a matter of days. It is simple and cheap. 

CreateSpace charges about $10. LightningSource: $75. Unfortunately, the results are pretty dismal for both. They both use the same presses. The colors are not always bright. CreateSpace uses cheap, thin paper, and both companies won’t let you put any words on the spine, which seems ridiculous to me. How will a person find the book on a home bookshelf let alone at a public library?

The results for chapter books are more encouraging. In fact, the whole POD way of making books is actually geared for making books with lots of words. Because that is the case, and because the technology just doesn’t meet my standards, I’ve put my dozen or so books with CreateSpace on hold, believing that things will get better rather soon. 

In the meantime, I have turned to making electronic books. I have looked at Kindle and Nook and iBooks. Only iBooks shows real possibilities for me as a picture book maker. The colors are bright. There is more functionality, because after all, the iPad, on which you have to view the iBook, is a mini-computer, while Kindle and Nook are simply screens for viewing static pdfs. 

iBooks does have a catch, however: it is pretty difficult to turn a book you have created into an epub document. An epub uses html coding and makes a mini-web page out of your book. It is the coding that is difficult. Adobe InDesign will turn your book into an epub document in the blink of an eye, but the results aren’t always what you might expect. Pictures show up in odd places in the iBook. Sentences can end up anywhere. This is because iBooks are not really made for picture books….unless you understand the present functioning epub formatting. 

It turns out that there are two kinds of iBooks. One in which the text and pictures flow as you turn the digital pages. The other is one in which the formatting is fixed. It is the fixed formatting that you must have to make a picture book work; otherwise, pictures and text get separated in weird ways after they have gone through the epub meat grinder.

You have several options at this point. You can learn html coding and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and all of the other necessary codes to turn your book into an epub. You can hire someone like Telemachus Press ( ) to do this for you for a small bag of money. Or you can use some of the software out there which claim to be able to turn your book into an epub. 

The best software I have found—and one of the cheapest—is a little app for the iPad called Book Creator []. It is only $5. With it, you can design pages, put text on top of pictures, and do a fair amount of things before the little thing runs out of steam. For example, you can’t use italics and roman in the same sentence. You can’t put pictures on top of pictures and you are stuck with only three different book sizes: square, portrait, and landscape. Still, you can do a lot. Check it out at the website mentioned. There’s a simple video to watch. After you see the video, you’ll have a million ideas of your own. 

The one nice thing about Book Creator is that it is DRM-free. DRM means ‘digital rights management.’ I don’t pretend to understand all of the legal ramifications of DRM, but I understand that if you use software that is not DRM-free, you may run into problems down the road. You may not be able to sell your books in all of the venus you would like. 

iBooks and iTunes have come out with iAuthor
This is really cheap software, but it is not DRM-free. If you create something with iAuthor, you can only sell what you create as an iBook. Apple is not the only one doing this. Many companies that claim to help you out have DRM clauses. Unless you are a lawyer, I’d be wary of giving any of my rights away.

Even so, in order to sell books for the iPad, you have to sign an agreement. I signed the agreement which contained some pretty scary stuff about rights. Why? Because either party can break the agreement with a 30-day written notice. I figured that was fair. After all, when I sell through iBooks, I come away with a 70% share. See if a legacy publisher will give you that much. And with a legacy publisher you sign everything away.

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