Sending an updated Kindle edition to previous customers

I created a new edition of my book, Castle Falcon, including a new map. While updating the book was simple enough in both Kindle and Createspace, I was hoping I could convince Amazon to provide free updates of the improved book to previous Kindle purchasers.

Guess not. From their Help section:

“Some examples of corrections that don’t justify sending updates to customers who previously purchased your book are:

•   New Content Added: Chapter(s) or page(s) added, deleted or revised; new images added; bonus chapter added.”

Oh, well.

For the record, there is a list of changes that do justify an update to Kindle customers at Amazon’s help site.  Mostly they involve major mistakes.

E-book cover issues, continued

I complained in an earlier post how Ray Bradbury’s e-books were, in my opinion, badly treated as far as covers went.

I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series. His latest book (Skin Game) just came out, so I picked up a new Dresden book in Kindle format for the first time. At the same time, there was an Amazon deal for the first seven Kindle books for $1.99 each, and what the heck, I snapped those up too.

Just for fun, before checking out the new book I started re-reading the series from the beginning, purchasing the remainder of the books as I went (not $1.99 each, unfortunately).

As with Bradbury’s books, most of the Kindle books had no cover at the beginning at all, just the title text and author. This was disappointing, as the Dresden series has some really nice covers on their hardbacks.

Oddly, three of the books did have actual illustrated covers. Blood Rites and Cold Days had the hardcover illustrations. Summer Knight had an illustration (not the standard hardcover one), but it was about the size of a postage stamp on my screen. This is a common Kindle graphic formatting error, but with a cover illustration it’s one you almost have to work at to screw up during the Kindle publishing process.

Come on, publishers! Your e-book designs reflect on your authors as much as the hardcovers in the store windows.

(For an example of a publisher that seems to have really worked hard on their e-books, check out the Harry Potter series, which you can only buy directly at the Pottermore website.)

 Dresden_Cold_Days

Bradbury Kindle books: wonderful text and hack covers.

Steven Paul Leiva, a friend and colleague of Bradbury’s, comments here.

More “back of the bus” treatment of e-book backlists, I guess.

Particularly annoying to me was the scrapping of the Charles Addams cover for “From the Dust Returned.” Fortunately, there’s a nice hard copy on my shelf with the full front-to-back illustration.

Here’s the hard copy cover:

Charles Addams cover for print version of

And here’s the Kindle version:

Kindle cover for

Bleh.

As a Kindle user who would love to see many of my old shelf favorites on my Kindle as well, I wish I could say this was rare, but too many publishers (big companies, too) just hack out their backlist, assuming they bother at all. I’m not talking about obscure authors, either.

I wish I had a nickel for every e-book I have that was obviously shoved through a scanner/OCR process and put together quickly, apparently with no final proofreading. OCR typos are quite easy to spot.

This isn’t the worst example I’ve seen of a cheesy “make do” cover, either.

This half-assed approach is annoying–but at least understandable–for two or three dollar e-books created by amateurs (legally) from old authors in the public domain (Kipling and such.) I’m not sure what the excuse is for an author in print whose rights are still held by major companies.

I’ll take what I can get, and I understand that the backlist isn’t a major profit driver, but geeze.

 

Smashwords update

Castle Falcon was approved by Smashwords for inclusion in their “premium catalog,” and has been shipped to six new markets so far, including Apple and Kobo. I “opted out” of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, where I already had the book set up.  Again, not bad results for no fee and not much work.

The Apple version is up on iTunes already.

And now, Smashwords

At the suggestion of a fellow writer, I decided to look into Smashwords to distribute Castle Falcon to some venues I don’t have yet (like iBook and Kobo).

The Smashwords site was simple enough. They have an e-book conversion engine they call “Meatgrinder.” It translates a Word file (.doc, not .docx) into multiple versions, including EPUB, Mobi, LRF, PDP, and others.

The annoying catch is that you have to sign up with them to publish before they let you use it. I’d gotten used to being able to tweak my conversions at places like Amazon before actually tossing the book out there for publishing, so having the “conversion” and “publish” step be simultaneous was a little sporty for me. I’m guessing this is because Smashwords doesn’t like the idea of their fancy conversion engine being used to create all these nice e-book files and then have people download and run off with them.

The first step was creating a Word file that was formatted properly as input for Meatgrinder. This was new for me, because I’d used Adobe Indesign and special plug-ins to generate all my previous printed and e-book files. I won’t go into the details, but the free Smashwords Style Guide was immensely useful for someone who’d never created a Word e-book file before.

I spent an evening on the Word file, tested the hyperlinks for Table of Contents and Endnotes, grabbed a .JPG of my cover (a requirement), and then filled out the online form to sign up for Smashwords.

I uploaded the Word file and cover file, and watched as Meatgrinder did the translations in front of me. It was kind of cool to watch each file version in the list turn green and say “completed.” I was done, and published. All in one go.

There were a few more things to clean up. I priced the book the same as my Kindle and Nook versions. I added some information to my Author Page, like a bio, my website links, and a couple of other things. I went to the Channel Manager link on my Dashboard, and opted out of distribution to Amazon and Nook. I added an ISBN number, which is required for distribution to Apple and Sony (I still have a supply of my own, but Smashwords will supply one with them as publisher for free).

When things settled down, I downloaded samples of the various files from my new book page to put in my reader software and make sure everything worked. The formatting on EPUB and Mobi was just fine, except for one thing:

All the text through the whole damn book was blue.

Next time: Invisible Goofies and Blue Meanies.

Kindle Matchbook

Okay, maybe the name is just a little off, but the idea is good.

If you have a paper book published through Amazon’s Createspace and a Kindle version as well, you can offer an automatic discount on your Kindle version to someone who buys the paper version.

Details here.

To set it up, go to your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) site.

  1. Select your Kindle book title on your Bookshelf, go to the “Rights and Pricing” section, and check the “Enroll” box for Kindle MatchBook.
  2. Set the discount for your book by choosing a promotional list price from the options given.
  3. Save your Kindle MatchBook preferences.

As far as I can see (I could be wrong) books published by conventional publishers don’t seem to be eligible. But those publishers usually set the Kindle prices anyway.

Kindle Direct Publishing launches beta of cover creation tool

Article at “The Digital Reader.”

One of the hardest parts of self-publishing is generating a good cover, either for paper books or digital ones. Places like Createspace and Lulu, among others, already have “cover wizards.”

You can certainly get a workable cover out of these “wizards,” but in my opinion it’s worth the effort to learn how to generate the artwork yourself, or at least hire it done. For one thing, there may be rights issues involved in reusing a cover created by a particular format’s “wizard” for another format. For another, you’re never going to get as much originality from a “wizard” as you can from real artwork.

Artwork for paper books, using the “one piece cover” art method, is hard to lay out. A one-piece cover is what you get by basically flattening the book out, or in the case of a book with a dust jacket, by removing the dust jacket and flattening it out. It’s easy to see that lining up the spine, end papers, and everything else can be tricky. Even changing the number of pages can affect this kind of cover design as the spine area gets larger or smaller.

Cover artwork for Kindle (or other e-books) is much simpler. It’s just a single JPG picture with art and title text. Last time I checked, preferred sizing for Kindle covers was 1563 pixels on the short side and 2500 pixels on the long side.

If you’re planning to do a lot of this kind of thing, it may be worth it to invest the time and money in learning Photoshop, InDesign, or other professional publication software. Adobe’s “Creative Suite” isn’t cheap, but it could be a good investment.

The world in a grain of silicon

I mentioned looking up books on Kindle last time. I’ve got one of the older electronic-ink versions, the one with the keyboard at the bottom.

I love it. I write books for children, and while I like the idea of seeing my work published on shelves in hardcover and paperback, I want electronic versions out there too.

My kids gave me the Kindle for Father’s Day a while back, and I wondered what I was going to do with it at the time. But as I started loading my favorites on board, and realized that I could read any of them anywhere I went, it really grew on me. Having accidentally squished the screen once (and gotten a replacement from Amazon), I got a nice metal-reinforced case from Proporta in England (“aluminium”) and it’s held up under a lot of handling since.

I like to read when I eat. I can turn pages by just tapping the side key, and I don’t have to hold a book open with a weight. I can eat spare ribs, and hit the button with my elbow. The Kindle fits nicely in the inside pocket of my jeans jacket, and I can read in a park, in a waiting room, or anywhere else. The electronic ink screen shows up in full sunlight. I can’t read in the dark, but I hear the newer “Paperwhites” have a screen light.

I like electronic ink. I don’t want my Kindle to be anything except a book. I have no desire to get anything more powerful. No movies, no games, no apps, no “Fire.” I also like that the battery lasts for a couple of weeks. If somebody ever comes up with full-color electronic ink, maybe I’d consider that.

My Kindle has wireless, so I can download new books any time I’m in a wi-fi zone. For a bit more money, you can get one that has cell phone access. You can get at Amazon’s library anywhere you have a signal. There’s no charge, and you don’t even need your own cell phone account. You can get a Kindle cheaper if you’re willing to put up with ads on it (no thanks).

I would have killed for this kind of literary access when I was 10. Say what you will about there being nothing like holding a real book, cracking it open for the first time, smelling that great new book smell, and turning the pages. I’d even agree with you. But there’s a lot to be said about carrying a little leather-covered pad in my coat pocket that contains enough books to fill a large room, with many classics available for less money than a fancy coffee drink. Or even free.

My Dad has one, and loves it. I got my wife a free Kindle app for the IPod she carries around (it contains reference books for her pharmacy work). She took to it like a duck to water. One reason I generate e-books of my work is because she likes to proof it that way. She’s reading an old classic now that weighs about three pounds in paperback. I can buy books and send them to anyone I know who has a Kindle (with permission). I just shot a copy of Half Magic to my wife.

There are other e-readers, of course. This is just the one I own.

So what have I got on my Kindle so far?

All of Nero Wolfe. All of Pratchett’s Discworld books. Six Dune books. A bunch of Heinlein. The Narnia books, and a bit more C.S. Lewis. The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series. The Garrett Files. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The Complete George MacDonald, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft, and Jules Verne. Moby Dick. Heidi. Wind in the Willows. Some Gaiman novels. And a few other odds and ends, including Kindle versions of my own books (only one of which is actually on the market).

I’m just getting started. I don’t have H. G. Wells in there yet, or Shakespeare, the Lewis Space Trilogy, or the Oz books, among many others. I only have the first Harry Potter book. I wish all the favorite books of my childhood were available in this format, but a lot of them are. I’m a kid in a candy store with a shopping cart the size of a dump truck. I tell my family to get me Amazon gift certificates for every holiday.

———————————————–

His grip on my shoulder tightened. “We have books here bound in the hides of echidnes, krakens, and beasts so long extinct that those whose studies they are, are for the most part of the opinion that no trace of them survives unfossilized. We have books bound wholly in metals of unknown alloy, and books whose bindings are covered with thickset gems. We have books cased in perfumed woods shipped across inconceivable gulf between creations–books doubly precious because no one on Urth can read them. 

“We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams. Books whose pages are not paper at all, but delicate wafers of white jade, ivory, and shell; books too whose leaves are the desiccated leaves of unknown plants. Books we have also that are not books at all to the eye: scrolls and tablets and recordings on a hundred different substances. 

“There is a cube of crystal here–though I can no longer tell you where–no larger than the ball of your thumb that contains more books than the library itself does. Though a harlot might dangle it from one ear for an ornament, there are not volumes enough in the world to counterweight the other. All these I came to know, and I made safeguarding them my life’s devotion.” 

– Master Ulton, the Curator, from Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer.

Magic, Nesbit, Eager, and Lewis

No, not a law firm. It’s like this:

I was looking in my bookstore for a kid’s book under the “E’s” (a whole different story). I didn’t find it, but I did find Edward Eager’s Half Magic. I like to re-read books that were favorites when I was a kid myself, so I picked it up.

While some books in this nostalgia category don’t stand up to the passage of time, I’m happy to say most of them do. Many even deliver entirely new insights and enjoyments to my now (somewhat) adult mind. Half Magic is one of them.

As a bonus, there was a new connection. The children in the book discover a new author at their library, E. Nesbit, and she becomes their favorite (Edward Eager readily acknowledges his debt to this children’s author).

The connection is that I’d just finished C. S. Lewis’s On Stories. In it, Lewis gives many examples of what he considers good writing, and Nesbit is one of them. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read Nesbit, even as a kid (To be fair, the small libraries I frequented may not have had her work, and until I got to college in the city I don’t think I ever saw books for sale anywhere except at the corner drugstore).

It’s not as odd as the Tolkein-Lewis connection I made today reading The Horse and His Boy (which contains a “prancing pony” named “Bree,”) but it’s a nice one.

Of course, I looked up Kindle versions of Nesbit today. 25 books for $3.95, all in the palm of my hand. Click. Got it. More on Kindle in the next post.