and worry about it later

This week there was some interesting discussion about Amazon and e-books. And no, I'm not talking about the Amazon Fire, their new entry into the tablet world, since I don't really care anything about tablets (at least at the moment).

I would direct people to some very good posts over at Stephen Watkins' blog (The Undiscovered Author) about Amazon, and about e-book self-publishing in general. I won't put direct links, since there have been about five or six posts, but they're all recent so they'll be easy to find. Stephen's premise (and his documentation is thorough) is that 1) Amazon will not make you rich as a self-publishing e-book author (unless you're really lucky), and 2) Amazon does not exist to make you rich anyway (well, duh).

I have no strong feelings about Amazon one way or another, mostly because my experiences have run the gamut from sublime to dreadful. To quote one of my comments:

I’ve had a wide variety of experiences with Amazon. On one hand, they gave me probably the best customer service experience I’ve ever had with a large corporation: u-town.com/collins/index.php?p=1993. On the other hand, some of my websites went down for over 48 hours(!) because Amazon is pretending to be a web hosting company: u-town.com/collins/?p=2121. Those are probably the extremes.

I do like the Kindle, though I use it mostly as a writing/editing tool, for which it is very well suited (the majority of the files on my Kindle are things written by me). Also, early 20th century books that are out of copyright are basically free (the entire Sherlock Holmes canon, all the Philo Vance books, Henry James, Ulysses, etc.). And, as I've said before, it is the best way to read the New York Times every morning.

So, I was thinking of doing my new book (in progress now) as an e-book as well as a real book. I even poked around Smashwords a lot, which was rather discouraging, since an e-book has to be in a lot of different formats, and you don't have much ability to tweak formatting. And all the e-books I've read have had unexplained indents, paragraph breaks in the wrong places, and other unsightly mistakes. I'm used to print and web, where you have a lot of control, especially if you understand the tools.

But I was still thinking about it, until one of the articles Stephen linked to (from this post) mentioned that one thing which isn't known is how books will display that aren't all text. You know, books with illustrations.

Well, my mystery stories have illustrations. Maps, floor plans, even a scan of a vital written clue. How would they display on different readers, different tablets, different phones? Well, I don't have to see them on a phone to know how they'll display: they won't, at least not properly, since they're bigger than that little tiny screen. This is an issue for Stephen as well, since he works in the fantasy genre, and fantasy usually has maps.

So, that settles it. Hard copy and web, where I have control, and that's it. No e-books, at least not for this project.

Oh, and it was pleasant that with the various new Kindles announced this week, I had no buyer's remorse for having the one I do have, because none of the newer ones have keyboards, and I get a lot of use out of that little keyboard.

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5 Responses to and worry about it later

  1. sonje says:

    Instead of using Smashwords–which I think tries to format your document for you?–have you considered formating your file especially for Kindle yourself? Since you have a Kindle, you can check to see if it’s worked or not.

    I’ve read many, many books on Kindle with no formatting issues, even those with illustrations. It should be noted that illustrations are not nearly as clear on Kindle as in an actual book, of course, but they’ve been in the right places.

    This means it would only be suited for Kindle and not everything else, but I’m pretty sure that Kindle is still the most popular e-reader, yes?

  2. I will say that I don’t think it will be long before formatting for images is figured out – because it’s not that uncommon for images to be an important part of a written work.

    And as the above-comment points out – they can do images, they’re just not great quality (and not color). They can’t even quite do what we think of as Black-and-white, yet, because there’s no grayscale, so it’s only true black-and-white. In that case, the quality will vary depending on the pixel-density of the ereader. (Higher pixel-density will allow for a grayscale, at least.)

    That said… it also looks like the market is moving away from the e-ink technology… apparently the market prefers the benefits of color and image quality over the benefits of being able to read in direct sunlight and not suffering from backlit eye-fatigue.

  3. Sonje: Going Kindle-only would be the sensible way to go, since it is #1 and I do have one, but the main problem is that I do like the idea of open, non-proprietary formats (like EPUB), and the Kindle is the only reader that doesn’t support EPUB. I would want it to be availble for EPUB as well.

    But Stephen has brought up the most important point, which is that this is a _very_ fast-moving market, things are changing really fast, and the book is not even close to being ready to go (I’m still writing the final story, then there’s more floor plans and maps, then there’s making sure it works as a book, then beta readers, then final layout and tweaking (line breaks, page breaks, widows and orphans, etc.).

    Things could be very different by the time all of that is done. People talk about how much faster self-pub is than traditional, but it still takes time if you’re going to do it right.

    So, as the title of this post says, I’ll worry about it later (which is not what I was thinking about when I wrote it 🙂 ).

    Stephen: My illustrations are very basic (mostly bare-bones floors plans with stick figures to show where the dead bodies are — so, no gray scale and not much detail).

    And I will be sad if e-ink goes away. I do like it.

    (Also, as I suspected would happen, the new Kindles have plugged the 3G-web-browsing hole. Even the 3G ones will only allow web browsing via wifi. So, no more 3G web browsing for free. At least you can still do it on the old ones, for now.)

  4. averildean says:

    Very interesting points, and I’m off to check out Stephen’s articles.

    All of this is exactly the sort of thing we went through with digital photography, by the way. Same growing pains, similar up- and downsides. I’d put a pretty fair amount of money on the fact that by the time you get ready to publish, the e-reader will be ready for your floorplans.

    • A pretty fair amount of money. huh? No, thanks. It looks like a sucker bet to me. 🙂

      (Which is not to say that I’m definitely going to e-publish. I’m going to finish the book, do the hard-copy version, and then I’ll see how things look.)

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