Tag Archives: eBooks

10 Formatting Tips for the Nook (EPUB)

Well, in the span of a week or so I now have two Nooks, a Nook Simple Touch (the current generation cheapest Nook), and a first generation Nook, generously donated by a friend at church. Even though I’ve spent a considerable amount of time formatting the MOBI (Kindle) version of the fractal book, the Nook presented some unique challenges which required different solutions. Below are my initial findings:

1. Use a different file: The Nook version is a little different than the Kindle version of an eBook, particularly one like mine with graphics, figures and equations. For a text eBook you may be able to get away with a single Word file, but in my case you need two, one for your MOBI draft, and one for your EPUB.

2. Size is everything: The Nook, especially the Nook android app, is not always the best at resizing graphics. On the Kindle, if an image is 8″ wide, beyond the physical extents of the device, it is auto-shrunk and centered. This is not the case with the Nook. Above 5″ or so you run the risk of the edges of your picture being cut off (more than 6″ on the eReader Nook).

3. Simplify Math: Probably the worst place where the Nook cuts off graphics is equations. The equation editor in Word produces a graphic file for each equation (usually PNG). Since the equation is not treated as a graphic in Word, however, it is not easy to adjust its width and the edge of the equation can be cut off if it’s too long. Reducing the font or changing from display to inline can both help, but the solution I’ve found best is to shorten words. Instead of maximum use max, instead of number use num, iteration is iter, etc. Creating a multi-line equation may help in some circumstances as well. The eReader version of the Nook is better (but not perfect) at handling this problem.

4. Eliminate Transparency: And while we’re on the subject, equations will be unreadable in the first place because of the transparency in PNG. The Kindle format (MOBI) handles transparency without difficulty (at least the newer generation Touch, Fire and app do). On the Nook it’s a different story. The first time I converted directly to EPUB from the “web page filtered” file all of my equations were black rectangles. The simplest solution I found was to first convert the book to MOBI, then convert this MOBI file to EPUB. The conversion process to MOBI must eliminate transparency so the EPUB doesn’t encounter it. (This is using Calibre).

5. Header in the right direction: The older generation Nooks (and possibly Kindles) do not have the same range of fonts as newer eReaders. In particular headers or section titles that were bold and a little larger do not render correctly. This can affect the flow of pages. No specific fix, just something to be aware of.

6. Spell out fractions: The EPUB format does not seem to recognize fraction characters like ½. Invalid characters are replaced with a rectangle. My suggestion is to spell fractions out, for example one-half or (1/2).

7. PDF behavior: PDFs can often be a great solution for solving some of the inconsistencies of an eBook format, but a PDF does not look the same on every eReader. The Kindle auto-centers each page, vertically and horizontally. This can be annoying if a page has only a single paragraph though you can eliminate vertical centering by adding page numbers at the bottom of each page. On the Nook PDFs are left oriented, meaning there is often a lot of white space on the right hand side. A possible solution is a PDF sized specifically for the Nook, using pages that match its dimensions.

8. A Page is not a page: My book is 430 or so pages on the Nook, 500ish in Word, and 300ish on the Kindle. Don’t sweat the page numbers too much, they’ll never match.

9. Use Helevetica Nueue as your font: Pretty self explanatory. This gives the most consistent look across all generations of the Nook and Kindle. Some apps may not support this, but they’ll support something similar. Your Word Doc doesn’t need to be in this font, so long as your reader is set to it. Many computers may not actually have this font installed (and its not free).

10. Webpage links may not work: The Nook Simple touch does not have a web browser so none of my URLs work in the eBook for getting to reference websites and software. Make sure to spell out URLs so your readers can type them, or possibly make them available on your blog or website.

That’s all for now, may have more later.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Writing

eBooks by the shovel full

I picked up my first Nook this weekend.

The stated purpose of this second eReader is to proof the EPUB version of the fractal book, and indeed I’ve already learned a number of formatting tips I’ll be passing along in a future post. But one clear advantage to the Nook is the SD expansion slot. This one hardware difference gives the Nook the ability to carry as much as ten times the content of the Kindle.

Now how am I going to fill it?

One way I’ve been trying recently is NetGalley. NetGalley offers advanced galleys of upcoming books, some immediately available and some available upon request. I got ahold of Burning The Page from this service, and have already queued up the next couple of books including Love and Math. NetGalley’s especially good for bloggers, or those with healthy GoodReads followings, as requests for books have a greater likelihood of going through if you have a lot of followers. And best of all, it’s free, and you get to read things before the general public.

Another bundle service I came across from my PW Daily e-mails is the simply titled ebookbundles.com. This site is actually four sites, or four bundles, general fiction\non-fiction, romance, sci-fi, and fantasy. The prices tend to be between $5.99 to $9.99 for four to five books, most of them DRM free. I bought my first of these bundles about a month ago, in large part because the cost of one book in the bundle on Amazon was the same as the cost for five on this site. Not all of the books are available for direct download, however. For those with DRM you’ll need to work with Adobe Digital Editions to retrieve the books. NetGalley uses this program for some of its books as well. Adobe Digital Editions is not perfect, and doesn’t seem particularly good at transferring libraries between computers, but it will work for transferring books to your eReader. The site seems a little dodgy at times, but tech support is very helpful if you have problems. There are a couple of free books as well you can get by signing up for their newsletter. I’ve been signed up for about a month and only get the occasional e-mail to it’s not too spammy.

Last but not least is a bundle starting yesterday from the StoryBundle site. For $10 you can pick up eight science fiction titles including a never before published novel from Frank Herbert (author of Dune), or you can pay as little as $1 for six books. I have heard of a number of these authors , and this seems like a low risk way to try them all. The books are available in Nook and Kindle formats so I can read them on both my eReaders. And they are DRM free. Definitely recommend if you are the least bit interested in sci-fi, though the site runs all sorts of bundles so check back to see if they have something more your speed.

And speaking of Bundles, the fractal bundle should be ready in a couple of weeks. Keep watching this space.

Any other places you get eBooks, particularly in bundles?

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The Battle of Burning The Page For $9.99

The eBook revolution is upon us. Have you chosen a side?

Burning the Page by Jason Merkoski is a chronicle of the early days of this war, namely the creation of the Kindle, and the eReaders to follow. If you can get past the first 5% where Merkoski takes credit for the first online eBook, and brags about how he was uniquely placed to be the first eBook evangelist, then you are presented not only with the history of a device, but a fundamental change in reading.

Even though he was an “eBook evangelist” for years, Merkoski is a lover of physical books. Each chapter centers on a piece of the history of the eBook through Merkoski’s five years at Amazon, as well as his predictions for the future of eBooks. But each chapter ends with a look back to some artifact of the past that will be lost, whether it’s found artifacts in books, the smell of musty pages and ink, or even just bookmarks. Merkoski describes emotionally the process required to scan in a physical book, which in nearly all cases is destructive to the original. Though he calls the eBook revolution a “bloodless” revolution, it’s clear that he is not ambivalent to the blood spilled in torn spines and burned pages.

But Merkoski loves his technology as well, though ironically he seems to think of the Kindle as a cold soulless device. A number of his predictions center around ways to make eReaders more like physical books, whether it’s physical\digital pages to turn, or covers that are shown on a screen in the front. Still he loves a good device unboxing:

“Unboxing is a new voyeuristic phenomenon that’s erotic and technical at the same time. It’s tech pornography. It’s as if we desire total carnal knowledge of our consumer electronics goods.”

Sounds a bit like a guy who hasn’t seen the real thing in a while.

Merkoski does believe reading will become more social. Whether it’s crowd-sourced travel or recipe books, to readers contributing to what happens next to our main character, writing and reading may become more of a social endeavor. In fact, Burning the Page may be one of the first social eBooks. Each chapter ends with a hyperlink to take you to Merkoski’s own site to continue the discussion online.

For a view of the eBook revolution outside of Amazon’s walled garden, look no further than Publisher’s Weekly’s “The Battle for 9.99.” Compiled from court documents and evidence in the current Apple price fixing case, this short Kindle single details Amazon’s loss-leading eBook pricing practices, and the steps the major publishers took to fight back. Perhaps some blood was spilled in the eBook fight after all.

I think as a writer starting out at the beginning of the eBook era, these books present an interesting history of how we got to the current eBook climate, and where we might be going. Personally I think the book will always exist in some form like it does today. The best writing and ideas come from structure, and I don’t think a book written by committee would fare any better than a horse designed by one. But eBooks are here to stay and for less than $9.99 you can get a view from two prominent sides.

Burning the Page – 4 out of 5

The Battle for $9.99 – 4.5 out of 5

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42

Why I Write eBooks

Admit it, you still want a copy of your writing you can hold in your hand.

The eBook revolution has arrived, and most of the reading and writing I’ve been doing for the past year has been geared toward eBooks. I think for many writers the eBook is a fallback or a trial run. Our vision of true success in the publishing world takes time to change. Even for myself, I think it would be great if the fractal book got a print run, one on expensive glossy pages with rich color and fixed formatting. The fractal book is the first book I’ve written where there has been no physical artifact. At every stage from drafting through multiple revisions there has never been a full printing of the book.

Every project prior to the fractal book has been printed as I wrote it. It was the reward for a good night’s work, and a way of seeing my progress beyond word counts. I could feel the weight of it and know that I had created something. This is a hard feeling to give up.

But the fractal book was different from the beginning. Most of the great books on fractals were written twenty years ago, and the few that are available as eBooks are prohibitively expensive ($40-$70). Very few of those books include program code and those that do are using programming languages twenty years out of date. Fewer still seem interested in generating image files you can take with you, as opposed to just drawing on the screen. As someone who loves this topic, there is a whole generation of people who might never learn about this work beyond buying a cool app for their phone.

Convincing a publisher to publish a book about fractals from an enthusiast programmer seems an almost impossible task, and may not be the best approach in the first place. Right now, fractals are kind of a niche topic, and niche topics are well suited to eBooks. Since I wrote my “Fractals You Can Draw” posts over a year ago, there has been a steady trickle of traffic to those posts every single day. This is a market spread around the country, around the world even, but one that might be hard to target with a physical book.

And print books are expensive. A good printing of this book would cost at least $30 to the final consumer, possibly more given the extensive color gallery. As someone who grew up on Half-Price Books and libraries, this price will never sit right with me. Doubly so for novels. How John Grisham (or Grisham’s publisher rather) can charge $25 for his latest book I think I’ll never understand. So in a way I’ve been primed for eBooks even before they really existed, and I think they should be cheap.

Sing it with me: five … five dollar … five dollar fractals.

I think we should embrace eBooks as a medium and try to create specifically for it, rather than using it as a publishing choice of last resort. Creating an eBook for the Kindle with hundreds of pictures and equations may not have been the wisest place to start, but it has shown me the medium has a lot of potential and room for growth. We can make eBooks into something we can be just as proud to have created as a physical book. And the more we do, the more we can shape eReading to be all the things we loved about reading physical books and more.

Have you made the jump wholeheartedly to eBooks, or are you still on the fence?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

Who wants used MP3s anyway?

In a not terribly surprising move the New York supreme court has rejected ReDigi’s attempt to sell your used MP3s, at least not under existing law.

ReDigi sells your used MP3s by uploading your music files to their server, and then deleting any copies off your hard drive. From this you, the seller, get a 60% cut of the sale price of your used MP3, and you still get to keep your MP3 if you have half a brain. Backup hard drives, burning to physical media, even renaming files are just a few of the ways to circumvent the loss of your used content.

But the court didn’t get that far. By it’s very nature “moving” a digital file from one place to another is actually copying it, and therefore under the definition of “first sale” it cannot be resold. But ruling on these grounds makes me a little concerned if the music company wanted to get snippy about the copies of their songs floating on cloud servers, MP3 players, burned CDs, backup hard drives, etc.

The publishing industry, particularly Amazon and Apple are interested in this for the same reason. And the technical issues are more interesting with an eBook. When you buy a book from Amazon, it’s stored in the cloud. When you download it to a device you create a unique digital file encoded with the serial number of that device. Most Amazon books allow at least four “simultaneous downloads” meaning that you have four digital files that are technically unique. Are each of these “first sale” books or just the one in the cloud? Can we sell our cloud access provided the devices we download to are programmed to delete books that are no longer in the cloud? What about Amazon’s new “AutoRip” service which gives you an MP3 copy when you buy a physical CD? You can sell the CD and keep the MP3s but what about the other way around?

I think for a while the answer to that question and many other related digital questions is simply, no. I’ve returned digital books that were defective and gotten a refund (from Amazon), but I don’t think there will be a Half Price Books for eBooks anytime soon.

This is the thing that’s weird about digital media in general, we don’t own it, we’re just renting. That means we’re stuck with the things we liked when we were teenagers, or we at least have to press delete. As someone who frequently sells to Half Price Books, selling things used is never about making money, it’s about sharing something you love with someone else, and hoping that others do the same so that you can try something out for cheaper. In the digital world, with the law as it is right now, the only way to try out new things is to pay sticker price, or break the law. That may mean many of us will try less. A CD for $1.00 at Half Price Books is a what the hell moment (I mean one MP3 is 99 cents so I only have to like one song), but a digital file is a more permanent decision, for an impermanent object.

I understand the court’s perspective, it’s the laws that need to change, and 60% back to the seller for something used seems fishy for something so easily copied. But I love buying used music and books, and I love reading on my Kindle (for all I bash Amazon on the blog 🙂 ) and listening to MP3s. But it may be that reconciling these two parts of my relationship with media isn’t going to happen.

What do you do with old digital files (MP3, Video, Games)? Do you back it up, throw it away, or give it to a friend?

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Filed under Trube On Tech