Monthly Archives: September 2013

When is an artist a sellout?

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“[By] the time I met my wife Maggie I was 25 and… I began to make plans to sell out… I wanted to sell out in the worst way because I wanted to be with her, but the wonderful thing about creativity is that once you get an idea that’s decent, even though you may want to commercialize it, you can’t. I tried to be commercial and it never worked, because my intuition was so powerful always in my life, I could never be a commercial writer.”
- Ray Bradbury
 
Previously, I’ve talked about the distinction between the fear and insecurity of thinking you’re no good as a writer, versus knowing that you’re awesome, but fearing you’ll never find the people who recognize your brilliance.

As I spoke of this difference, I neglected to mention another trepidation that I think many self-published authors cultivate like a garden of crap. For all my brave talk of fearing nothing, I also feared making an effort to find an agent and publisher. The truth is, I was afraid of that for as long as I could remember. Something about it scared me, but it wasn’t rejection. Something else burrowed under my skin with mandibles of terror. Something I had feared all my life, but never knew how to articulate until now.

Compromise.

That is what all creative souls fear. That is what fans berate musicians for when their favorite punkrock band finally becomes popular. That’s what the degenerates crucify their skateboarding heroes upon when the skaters actually manage to make money and earn a living.

Sellout.

The ultimate insult. More offensive than any other word in the English language.

I know what you’re thinking. No. Those other words aren’t as offensive. “Sellout” is the worst, because a sellout is something you choose to become.

That was my fear, only I never knew it. Because “sellout” is never a word that anyone uses to describe themselves. Sellouts call it “compromise”.
 
“Commercialism is the last sinkhole of love, and when it is reached, by paths of desperation and paths of cruel, misused emotions – all hope is gone.”
- Harlan Ellison
 
Harlan wrote those words in a short story called “Lonelyache” in reference to a character hiring a prostitute. But the “love” of which he speaks can apply to any love, not just sexual.

As the old saying goes – “Sluts do it for fun. Whores do it for money.”

I have feared making an attempt at traditional publishing, because I fear I might need to compromise. To sell out. That is why I have never sought a publisher. Why I have never queried an agent. I fear that the things I want to write, and the stories people want to buy, might be two different things. I know there are people in this world who will be adoring fans of my writing. But what if there’s only 5 of those people? I’m going to have to sell my books at $15,000 apiece! What if I am expected to change my writing to be more “marketable” to the world?

Like that scene in the movie Amadeus when Mozart is devastated at the notion of changing his music and he cries to Salieri, “It’s unbelievable. The Director has actually torn up a huge section of my music. They say I have to rewrite the opera! But it’s perfect as it is. I can’t… rewrite what’s perfect!”

I may not be the literary version of Mozart, but I’m delusional enough to think I am. This is the truth of why I mistrust editors and publishers. What if they ask me to change my work? I can’t… rewrite what’s perfect!

There is only one reason to ever do that. Every single editor who has ever existed has altered work for one reason and one reason alone – to sell more books. I know. I know. They will lie and say it is done “in service to the story” and the “story is the most important thing”. Blah, blah, blah.

Bullshit.

The truth is, no editor or publisher has ever wanted a story to be the “best” it can be. Their job is to make it the “most marketable” it can be. “Best” is publisher-speak for “sellable”. The “best”, not for the sake of the artistic integrity of the tale, but for the bottom line. For sales.

That is selling out.

That is compromising.

To write as I will, and make a living at it, is freedom.

To alter what I write, at the whim of publishers and editors, is servitude.

One is a dream.

One is a job.

I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life. I want to live the dream.
 
“You can live in your dreams, but only if you are worthy of them.”
- Harlan Ellison
 
The job of the author is to write. The job of the publisher is to sell. Publishers don’t know their jobs. They think their job is to make the work of an author profitable. That is not true. Their job is to make a profit from the work of the author. Huge difference. Their job is sell what the author gives them. Period. Too many publishers think their job is to alter the work of the author, to make it more bankable. Their job is never to alter the work of the author. No. False. Never. If they can’t sell what the author gives them, then they have no business working with that author. Work which is not “easy to sell” is not the responsibility of the author. It’s the responsibility of the publisher. If work by an author isn’t selling, that’s because the publisher is bad at selling that work, not because the author was bad at writing it.

If ever I met an agent or publisher or editor who understood those things, who knew their place in the kingdom, I would embrace them and be honored to have them serve as my knights and shieldmaidens.

Many folks would say, “How do you know so much about publishers if you admit you never had one?” Hey, go fuck yourself. I don’t need to have a rhinoceros shoved up my ass to know it would hurt.

At what price do we sell our souls?

When do we turn from writing sluts into writing whores?

Sometimes I feel like I’m Ernest Borgnine in drag. No wonder I struggle to sell my whoring.
 
“Don’t be afraid. That simple; don’t let them scare you. There’s nothing they can do to you… a writer always writes. That’s what he’s for. And if they won’t let you write one kind of thing, if they chop you off at the pockets in the market place, then go to another market place… Because the chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.”
- Harlan Ellison

How To Make An eBook EPUB File

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Many authors get really confused when creating an eBook as to what kind of format to use. eBooks can be made as a ton of different formats:
 
.aeh (used by Archos eReaders)
.lrx (used by Sony eReaders)
.ibooks (used by Apple eReaders)
.pkg (used by Newton eReaders)
.mobi (used by Amazon Kindle eReaders)
.epub (used by just about everyone else, including Barnes & Noble NOOK eReaders)
 
There are actually even more formats than those. That’s just a small sample. So, which one should you make?

Well, the only formats you need to create are EPUB and MOBI. Forget the others. EPUB is quickly becoming the industry standard and 90% of the eReaders on the market can open EPUB files. There is also a very simple conversion tool to change your EPUB into a MOBI. So, you really only need to make an EPUB, convert it to MOBI, and your book will be accessible on 99% of the eReaders out there, including NOOK and Kindle.

Today on InkShard, I want to teach you to do something awesome! Something I have never seen anywhere else on the Internet. I’ll show you how to create an EPUB file that can be published!

Now, the caveat “that can be published” is what makes my tutorial unique. There are plenty of tutorials on EPUB files, but they are all wrong for publishing! See, here’s the issue – there is a big difference between an EPUB that conforms to VALIDATION standards and one that can be PUBLISHED.

For example, when you want to publish a book with certain companies, they may have parameter requirements that must be present in your EPUB file, but those parameters are not required in order to validate the file. So, you go to all this trouble to follow another tutorial, you test your file, everything is valid, then the publisher rejects it! You have no idea why it was rejected, because you did everything right, the file works fine when you test it, it passes all the validation software. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is, you made an EPUB that can be VALIDATED not one that can be PUBLISHED.

So, I’m going to teach you how to create an EPUB file that is not only valid and properly formatted to all the standards, but it will also be accepted for publication at:
Amazon
Lulu
Smashwords
Barnes & Noble
iBookstore
 
At the time this tutorial was created, I successfully published 5 of my own books, to all of those distributors, using these techniques. So, I know it works.

Before we begin, I want to warn you – this tutorial presumes you have some basic computer knowledge and basic HTML knowledge. If you don’t know anything about filepaths, or directory structures, or save dialogs, or how to turn on your file extensions, or basic HTML, you will be lost in this tutorial. It will be too technical and confusing. But, if you know basic HTML, you’ll be fine.

Also, I will be giving you these instructions on a PC. If you use a Linux machine or a Macintosh, you might need to do things a little differently from the instructions, but all the basics are going to be similar.

Finally, I am not your free tech support. I love to help people out, but if you run into problems, I can’t be answering 50 emails a day asking me to troubleshoot your mistakes. Figure it out on your own. I’m like Morpheus in The Matrix – “I can only show you the door, you’re the one who has to walk through it.”

Okay, Neo, let’s get started.

First…

SOFTWARE YOU’LL NEED TO CREATE EPUB:

  • Good Text Editor with Syntax Highlighting (such as Notetab++ or jEdit)
  • .ZIP Compression Program (such as WinZip)
  • Web Browser (such as Chromium or Firefox)

DOWNLOAD THE SAMPLE FILE I HAVE CREATED FOR YOU FROM:

EPUB files are very easy to create. In the simplest terms, an EPUB is comprised of carefully structured XHTML files and folders, saved in a very particular way as a .ZIP archive, then you simply rename the .ZIP extension to .EPUB.

There are a few general rules you need to follow.

  1. Save all XHTML as UTF-8 and add Unicode Signature (BOM)
  2. Follow XHTML rules (such as making sure you close all tags including line break BR tags and paragraph P tags and LI list tags).
  3. Remember to make all of your HTML tags lowercase.
  4. Make sure your book title always follows the proper grammatical rules of case structure. Your book will be rejected by iBookstore if the case of your lettering is grammatically incorrect.

Now let’s take a look at the EPUB_Template.zip file. When you open the .ZIP, you will find two folders and one file:
FOLDER: META-INF
FOLDER: OEBPS
FILE: mimetype
 
The mimetype file and the META-INF folder are essential to creating your EPUB, but you won’t have to edit those or change anything in them. Just leave them alone. Open the OEPBS folder. That is where we will do all of our work. Inside that folder, you will see:
FOLDER: Images
FOLDER: Styles
FOLDER: Text
FILE: content.opf
FILE: toc.ncx
 
Let’s start with Images. That is where you will put your bookcovers and your author photo (assuming you use an author photo) and any other images that might appear inside your book. Obviously, you would replace the images in this sample with your own photos. Keep the height and width dimensions the same as the ones in my example. Why? Because some eReaders have troubles with sizes that are too big or too small. I found the sizes I have provided are of a size that will conform to all the eReaders on the market. So, don’t change the dimensions of your covers and author image. I have never seen a single eBook use a backcover, except my own. I don’t understand why eBook publishers don’t give their customers back covers. I plan on starting a trend in the eBook industry of providing a back cover, and thanks to my template, you’ll be able to have a back cover too.

Styles contains the stylesheet. I suggest you just leave this file alone and don’t edit it unless you’re an expert at HTML and you know your way around CSS. I programmed websites for Walt Disney Studios for 6 years, so I know how to create a CSS file. If you know CSS and want to tweak things or tinker, go right ahead, otherwise, don’t touch the CSS and just leave it be.

Now we get into the gritty stuff. Let’s start with the Text folder. The Text folder contains all of the chapters of your book, your copyright page, title page, table of contents and any other extra pages you might want like a biography or colophon. First, I will explain the quirks of putting all of your chapter information in the book, then I will explain the quirks of the required pages.

ALL THE CHAPTER PAGES INSIDE TEXT FOLDER:

  • Be sure to read my notes inside the sample file. There are lots of tips and hints in there.
  • Make sure your chapter TITLE tag in the HEAD matches your H1 tag.
  • Do not change the H1 tag for your chapter headings! Chapter headings must be inside H1 tags in order to conform to requirements of certain publishers, such as iBookstore.
  • Be sure to use standard HTML tags for bold B and italics I. Some tutorials suggest using CSS, but that would require a SPAN tag and, as of this writing, Kindles don’t recognize CSS variables in SPAN tags. Therefore, stick with HTML tags instead.

REQUIRED PAGES INSIDE TEXT FOLDER:

title.xhtml
cover.xhtml
backcover.xhtml
toc.xhtml
copyright.xhtml
 
The title.xhtml page is pretty self-explanatory. Nothing much to it, beyond your name and the title of the book.

You don’t need to edit the cover.xhtml and backcover.xhtml pages. Just leave those files alone and make sure you edit your cover pictures in your Images folder.

The toc.xhtml file is used by the eReader to display the Table of Contents to the person reading your book. Make sure all the pages are in the list. Note, there are no “required” files in the Table of Contents per se, but most retail distributors will obviously require that your Table of Contents is accurate. Note the front cover is not something you are required to list.

The copyright.xhtml file must follow the formatting included. Do not place any information on the page above the H1 tag and do not change the H1 tag formatting. Again, this is not an EPUB requirement, but it is a requirement for some distributors who have very strict rules about how the copyright.xhtml page must be laid out. Below the H1 tag, you are free to make all the changes you want. For example, you may want to include copyright information for a photographer who provided an author photo or a URL to your website. Such extra information is all permissible.

That covers all the files in the Text folder.

Finally, we move to the two most complicated files, the content.opf and toc.ncx inside the root of OEBPS. The formatting of these files is similar to a typical XML file in that they have various self-defined nodes containing different bits of data.

Let’s start with content.opf.

On line 5 of content.opf, you will see the node dc:title and that contains your book title.

On line 9 of content.opf, you will see the node dc:identifier and that contains any unique serial-number variable you want to use. Most people use an ISBN.

On line 10 of content.opf, you will see the node dc:creator and that contains your name.

On line 11 of content.opf, you will see the node dc:publisher and that contains your publisher name. If you are self-published, simply put your own name in there. This node is required by Barnes & Noble.

On line 12 of content.opf, you will see the node dc:date and that contains the day your book is being released. Without this, it will be rejected by Barnes & Noble.

The next section of content.opf is the manifest. The manifest is basically a file list, cataloging every single file that appears in your EPUB, including every single image, stylesheet and XHTML file – all the contents of your Images and Styles and Text folders. The manifest does not need to be in any particular order, but most people like to keep it organized in an alphabetical order, just to make it easier to read. Note that the manifest must be 100% accurate. There can not be any files missing and there can be no additional files listed that aren’t actually used. If you skip any files or add extraneous ones, your EPUB will fail validation. So, make sure your manifest is clean. Note the id field in all of your manifest nodes must be a unique variable. So, for example, if you add more images, you need to give each one a unique name.

The next section of content.opf is the spine. The spine controls the order your pages show up in the book. So, while the manifest can be in any order, the spine must be in the proper order. Do not change the ordering of the first 4 pages in the spine or your book may be rejected. The pages should remain bookcover then title then copyright then toc. Note the idref variable in the spine nodes match the id field in all of your manifest nodes. Again, as with the manifest, make sure the spine is 100% accurate to all the pages in your books and contains no extra files and is missing no files. If pages fail to appear in your ebook and you know they exist, they are most likely missing from the spine.

That’s all you need to edit in content.opf. There are other nodes like guide and language but you can just leave those alone. There’s no need to change anything there. I presume since you’re reading this in English, your book will be in English, so there’s no need to alter the language field.

Finally, we get to toc.ncx, the last file to edit in the OEBPS folder.

Like the content.opf, the changes made to toc.ncx require a high degree of accuracy. As you can see, the file is similar to your toc.xhtml but with a bit of extra information.

On line 3 of toc.ncx, you will see the meta tag dtb:uid and that must match the dc:identifier on line 9 of the content.opf file.

On line 9 of toc.ncx, there is a title tag – put your book title there.

Nested in side the navMap node of toc.ncx are navPoint nodes. As you can see, the navPoint nodes are similar to the chapter listings inside the toc.xhtml. The id tag in the navPoint node must match the corresponding id tag and idref tag in the content.opf file. The content src node in toc.ncx must match the filepath in the a href tag of toc.xhtml. The text node in toc.ncx is not tied to match anything. The playOrder tag must be sequential and no numbers can be skipped or missing.

That covers all the files you need to edit in the OEBPS folder.

You’re done editing!

Once you have all of your chapters created, and you have done all of the required editing to your content.opf and toc.ncx files, it’s time to create the EPUB file.

STEPS TO CREATE EPUB:

  1. Create an empty new .ZIP file
  2. Change the name of the file to the name of your book
  3. Open the empty .ZIP file
  4. Drag mimetype into the blank .ZIP (You must place the mimetype inside the ZIP file first, otherwise the file-structure will be invalid.)
  5. Drag META-INF and OEBPS into the .ZIP
  6. Close the .ZIP
  7. Rename the “.ZIP” extension as “.EPUB”

That’s all there is to it! You have just finished creating an EPUB file!

But, we’re still not done. Just because all your files open successfully in a web browser doesn’t mean your EPUB structure is conforming to all of the EPUB standards. So, once you have created your EPUB, the next step is to run some validation software on that EPUB to make sure it has no unseen errors inside of it. Do not skip the validation process. Validating is an essential step and if you skip it, your books could easily be rejected from publication due to mistakes you didn’t even know were there.

SOFTWARE YOU’LL NEED TO VALIDATE EPUB:

WEBSITES WHERE YOU SHOULD DOUBLE AND TRIPLE CHECK YOUR VALIDATION (using ePUB Check):

Why use 3 different resources to validate your EPUB? Because different validators frequently find different errors. For example, Flight Crew might find an error that the online ePUB Check software will miss. Therefore, it is crucial that you take the time to validate your EPUB in as many validators as possible. Remember, one minor little mistake can cause your file to be rejected, so it’s important that you not miss anything.

Typically, the errors are very explicit and even tell you right down to the line number where you have made a mistake.

Once you have validated that your EPUB conforms to all the validation standards, try opening it up on your computer and reading it. You can do this by using free EPUB reader software. Again, I’d suggest checking on multiple readers, not just one. Not all readers will render everything the same, so it’s important to check for consistency across multiple products.

SOFTWARE TO READ EPUB:

  • NOOK Reader App (different versions are available for different operating systems)
  • Sigil
  • calibre (the British spelling of “caliber”)

Once you have successfully opened your EPUB in all of your readers and have it working properly, you are all done! Now you have a completed, validating a publishable EPUB. Congratulations!

Now that you have a fully-validating EPUB file, you need to convert it to a MOBI file if you wish to sell your book on Amazon.

SOFTWARE YOU’LL NEED TO CREATE & VALIDATE MOBI:

Rumors have been circulating for a long time that the Amazon Kindle might someday gain the ability to read EPUB files and if that happens, this step will obviously become unnecessary. But, back when I made this tutorial in 2013, you still needed to do a MOBI conversion.

Here are the steps to make a MOBI file…

  1. Download the latest KindleGen from Amazon.com.
  2. Install KindleGen directly onto your C: drive in a folder called KindleGen. The reason you install it to the root of your C: drive is because you need to type a filepath in the Command Line Utility and you don’t want to have a tons of stuff to type. By keeping it installed directly in the root of your C: directory, you have less to type.
  3. After you install KindleGen, you should have a folder in C:\KindleGen that contains kindlegen.exe and a Readme.txt file.
  4. Copy your final name-of-your-book.epub into the folder C:\KindleGen.
  5. Go to Start -> Run… and type cmd and hit return.
  6. That should launch your Command Line Utility.
  7. In your Command Line Utility, type cd c:\KindleGen and hit return.
  8. Type KindleGen name-of-your-book.epub and hit return.
  9. MOBI file will build and be saved in C:\KindleGen.
  10. Open your MOBI in Kindle Previewer to test how it will look on different models of Kindle devices.

That covers it!

Now you know how to create an EPUB file that not only validates to all the EPUB standards, but is also accepted for publication at all of the major eBook distributors around the world. Plus, you know how to convert that EPUB to a MOBI file for the Amazon Kindle, which, at the time this tutorial was created, was the most popular eBook reader on the market.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and informative. Please, share this tutorial with any authors you know and hopefully it will help them too. Good luck publishing those books!

The Readers

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There’s a reason we love to read after dark.

There’s a tenebrous membrane that we feel ourselves pressed against, bookending the dark hours around midnight. Those lonely hours, because that’s what readers are. We are the lonely ones. Befriending makebelieve people, doing makebelieve things, in makebelieve places, during makebelieve times.

But during those moments, lost upon those pages, our minds shrouded in those worlds with all the mystery of morning dreams, we do share something real. A connection not to the authors, but to the fellow readers. You feel her. She feels him. Lonely as you. Intertwined souls. You wondered about each other at the same instant. On the same page. Reading that same sentence, they stopped, just as you did.

When most minds are quieted to dreaming, you feel your kind more clearly.

The lonely ones. The readers. In bed, curled upon the couch, wondering who else is on this journey at the same time? Dozens? One or two? Where might they be? In your town? A street away? Halfway across the country? The other side of the world? Who is to say? All you know for certain is, you felt them. Just for a moment.

The membrane grows thin. You are not alone.

Yet, of course, you are. Very much alone.

Knowing others have shared this road, same as you, almost makes the loneliness worse. Dreams of camaraderie give way to a reality of isolation.

Nothing makes you happier than reading. Nothing makes you feel more alone. Especially during those moments, when the veil grows thin, the membrane stretches just beneath your fingertips, and you can feel us out there, staring out from the pages, looking back at you. Knowing none of us will ever meet or touch. We shall remain each others spectres for all eternity. Bookending midnight. Alone in bed. The dark hours of silence where the only sound is the flip of a page.