Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: Creating your own Kindle-ready mobi file (Part 1)

I get a lot of inquiries over at Quantum Formatting about making mobi files for authors, so they can give out copies to reviewers, beta readers, etc. While it’s always nice to simply gift a copy through Amazon (and get a little back with the royalty) or use a free coupon on Smashwords, a lot of reviewers will want the book sent to them in a format they can put right on their Kindles (or other e-reader) without a lot of mucking about.

There are three really easy ways to create a mobi (Mobipocket) file for your own personal use.

The first is to download a copy from Smashwords. It won’t have any DRM (either proprietary or copy-protection), but it will have the old “Published on Smashwords” notification in the indicia, and whatever idiosyncracies the “meat grinder” gave it. One other disadvantage of this method is that a person cannot use “Send to Kindle” for a mobi file from Smashwords. At least it never works for me, and it only ever doesn’t work with Smashwords files.

(By the way, if you don’t have Send to Kindle, go download it now. It’s a very useful way to move books to your various Kindle devices.)

Nothing wrong with that, but the other two methods, at least to me, give the author much more control over the final look of the book they are sending to be reviewed or read by someone special.

The second way to convert a file will require the following:

  • A copy of your book manuscript in Word format (and, of course, a copy of Microsoft Word).
  • Download and install Kindle Previewer from Amazon.

Step 1:  Open up your document in Word.  If your file does NOT have a picture of your book’s cover at the beginning, add it now. Try to use the best quality but most compressed picture of the cover you have. Save the file as you normally would, using a file name to specify that it has the cover within.

convert001Click the Office button in the upper left hand corner and choose “Save As”.  In the pull-down menu under the file name bar in the next window, choose “Webpage, filtered.”

Please note that this will change some of the formatting of your book. Usually, the margin may move a bit to the left, and any “Small Caps” fonts will become “All Caps” instead. Nothing too traumatic, if you’ve formatted your book properly at the start.

Step 2:  Start Kindle Previewer. Choose “Open book” and choose the new HTML file you just created. It often may take a couple minutes to compile.

HINT: Make sure your book’s file is not open in Word at the same time. If it is, it will fail to compile.

After it’s done, you WILL get a WARNING! Don’t get upset about that. 99% of the time, it will look like this when you expand it to get the details:
convert005

The warning is “Cover not specified”.  Normally Kindlegen (the program that is Kindle Previewer) would be grabbing the cover from the image you uploaded to Amazon’s KDP. You don’t have that here. And since we’ve already added the cover, we know it’s there. So we can ignore this error. If there’s anything else there noted as a warning (and I’ve never seen anything yet), then it’d be time to ask around or head to the Kindle Forums with the exact wording of the warning.

Step 3:  Double check your book using the various device options. You can see how your book will look on a Kindle, a Fire or an iOS app with the various options under the “Device” heading on the upper toolbar. Click through them and make sure everything looks hunky-dory – there will often be little glitches between devices on the same book; especially if you have a lot of lists (ordered or unordered). And the program often screws up the display. Dunno why. But, no matter, this is the most reliable way to convert: It will reliably make your mobi file look just like your Word document.  As long as your formatting is consistent, it should be fine, and no one’s going to hold a dropped cap or a single out-of-line indent against you, unless they are seriously deranged.

Step 4: Kindle Previewer saves the new file as in the mobi it created. Using Windows Explorer, go to the folder that you originally saved the HTML copy of your book in. You’ll notice a new folder there with the file name to it (i.e., “converted-The Science Fiction Quiz Book KDP-FINAL-02.htm”). If you converted the file more than once, after say editing a mistake you saw while looking at it in the Previewer, there will be a copy of each conversion, delineated by a date stamp (“The Science Fiction Quiz Book KDP-FINAL-02_2014-05-27_22-12-59.mobi”). Just pick the newest one, rename it however you’d like, and that’s the file you can send to your reviewers and readers.

Next time in Balls Deep in Self-Publishing, we look at the third way to make a mobi file, using the software that the format was named for, Mobipocket Creator.
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The Five Star Trivia Quiz Book by Rich MeyerThe first volume of the Five Star Trivia Quiz Book series is now available on Amazon and Createspace!

600 trivia questions (and answers) about pretty much anything and everything – movies, comics, politics, history, music, pop culture, TV, radio, toys – hours of family-friendly fun for everyone!

Available on Amazon.com and Createspace.com

 

 

Amazon v Hachette: Don’t Believe The Spin

An excellent look at the Amazon/Hachette squabble that the media is feeding to the publishing community at large. My personal view is that, considering that Hachette (and all the Big 5 “traditional” publishers) really have nothing good to say about any self-published or independently-published author until they’ve proven they’re “winners” and can be brought in to write in the limited marketing segments that the Big 5 loves to tout, I’m on Amazon’s side in this one. Unless it comes out that Jeff Bezos has been burning kittens on peoples’ lawns in his spare time, I think his current business model still had the independent author playing a big part.

David Gaughran

amazonhachetteThe internet is seething over Amazon’s reported hardball tactics in negotiations with Hachette.

Newspapers and blogs are filled with heated opinion pieces, decrying Amazon’s domination of the book business.

Actual facts are thinner on the ground, however, and if history is any guide, we haven’t heard the full story. Here’s how it started.

In a historical quirk of the trade, publishers and booksellers negotiate co-op deals at the same time as the general agreement to carry titles. (For those who don’t know, co-op is the industry term for preferred in-store placement, such as face-out instead of spine-out, position on end-caps, front tables, window displays, and so on.)

At publishers’ insistence, the same practice has continued in the online and e-book world, namely that negotiations regarding virtual co-op (e.g. high visibility spots on retailer sites) take place at the same time as discussions over general terms and publisher-retailer discounts.

There is a lot…

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Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: The Good, The Bad and The P.L.R.

PLRgraphic

 

There are two things in independent publishing that use the initials “P.L.R.” One is quite good to authors, and the other is something that has helped completely and totally mess up the reputation of the indie publishing community.

The good PLR is “Public Lending Rights”, or “Publisher Lending Rights”. You’ll normally hear this a lot in the United Kingdom and Australia. It’s the system by which authors get paid for having their books lent out in libraries. Once again, Brits get better treatment by their government for artistic endeavors, as well as medical adventures, unlike us in the U.S.A. Folks who have published a book apply online and they (and the contributors) get an annual payment on eligible books. It’s something to check, particularly for British and Irish authors, as according to the website, there are over £136,000 in unpaid earnings right now. 

KDP Select users at Amazon get a bit of this, after a fashion, with the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), which pays folks for their e-books being lent to Amazon Prime members.

Now the evil PLR is what is known as “Private Label Rights”. How best to described this piece-of-crap concept?  Think of it as the Pyramid Scheme of Independent Publishing.  These are the sorts of things that were offered in the early 2000’s, especially on e-commerce sites like eBay and Yahoo Auctions.

People would write a little self-help tract on something, say selling on eBay, and drop it on a CD-R as a text file or maybe even a Word doc if they had the brainpower to type the suffix out, and then sell it to other people. And by buying that disc, those people had the right to sell discs of the material themselves, and they could make it their own, as long as they kept the original copyright information of the content. Naturally, even if the document said they couldn’t rebrand it or resell it, they would anyway. It’s the nature of the beast, no honor among thieves and all that. People would (and still do) often slap a few e-books from Project Gutenberg on the disc to sweeten the deal. (Or, in the case of one seller I knew, the ENTIRE Gutenberg collection up to that time, complete with the original webpages for navigation.) Hell, a good number don’t even worry about the books being public domain (which all of Gutenburg’s offerings are). Imagine how much better your twice-bought diatribe on losing weight is going to go over with a bunch of Harry Potter books and a few Sookie Stackhouses along for the CD-R ride!

Now, of course, PLR is a bit more frowned upon. Amazon, Smashwords and most of the major e-book publishers and aggregators will not allow PLR books as self-published works. This perplexed and vexed those cheap, money-grubbing bastiches until, eureka! They discovered that with a little extra writing, they could make the PLRs their own and publish e-books with their misbegotten and very internet-friendly information. So instead of a 75-cent CD and $5.00 shipping, they have to settle for the royalties off a $2.99 e-book.

Few of these “books” ever expand on anything beyond what you can find on Wikipedia or on the first page of a Google search. There’s rarely ever anything useful – at most, a few I’ve read have grabbed the FAQ of a website together and laid it out so there isn’t a lot of clicking involved in finding the information. That’s about the ONLY benefit of these things, since I rarely see any of these fly-by-nighters updating the information. A book on KDP or even eBay that was written two years ago won’t be of much use today. And most of these books don’t expand on anything – they’re still written from the perspective of the reseller, which isn’t much of a viable business model right now, unless you go whole hog with a website and webinars and all that similar stuff.

If you are an independent publisher, or are trying to self-publish, your book’s content is the most IMPORTANT thing you have, and you’ve got to get it right. Creative content is what sells books, not stupid ass gimmickry and PLR tracts.  That sort of thing is part of the reason why indie publishers and self-publishers still have a stain on them: Cash over content – quantity over quality.

Now if you want the skinny on how to sell a real and proper book, then the book you should check out is How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle-An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook. Martin Crosbie is an honest-to-bogey best-selling, self-published author. He KNOWS the ins-and-outs of this new publishing paradigm better than anyone I know, and his book is worth the extremely minimal investment (I think it’s like $4.99 right now) to help any author get things done right the first time.

Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 2

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 2
Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four, Vol. 2 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This second Fantastic Four volume of the Marvel Masterworks series has Jack Kirby hitting his stride on the book. The issues in this one feature the debut appearances of the Super Skrull, the Red Ghost and his Super Apes, Impossible Man, the Watcher, and the return of Doctor Doom, the Puppet Master and the Sub-Mariner.

The late Dick Ayers handles the inks on nine of the issues, with the remaining one, the introduction of the Red Ghost, being inked by Steve Ditko. This is one of those “can’t fail” books.

The single qualm I have with it is that the colorist screwed up the Impossible Man’s outfit. Other than that, this is a great read for anyone, comic fan or not!

View all my reviews

Book review: The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2

Action_Heroes_Archives,_Volume_2While a good portion of my hardcover reprint collection consists of Marvel Masterworks volumes, there are a few DC Comics Archives that I also take the time to grab when they’re cheap on Amazon: The Doom Patrol, All-Star Comics, some o the non-Superman and Batman golden age stuff, and the Action Heroes.

Now many folks who aren’t into comics are probably saying “Action Heroes”? Who the hell are they? Well, to put it simply, they are a bunch of characters that were published by Charlton Comics in the late sixties. The three big names were the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question. All three of those were created, co-created, or revamped by Steve Ditko, the comic legend behind Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and most of the really good aspects of the first Marvel Age of Comics. After leaving Marvel, he sauntered over to Charlton, where Dick Giordano was trying something new with their heroes, which hadn’t really caught on with the public. (It was hard to really make any headway into super-hero comics when DC and Marvel monopolized the field for, well, nearly ever.)

Captain Atom was an entirely new, atomic-age super-hero, with a healthy dose of the jingoism-of-the-day. Blue Beetle was the latest in a long line of characters to assume that name, beginning back in late 1939. Charlton Comics had just ceased publishing their last versions of both characters a few years earlier.

The Question was a brand new creation by Steve Ditko, and was one of his first creations to really espouse his Randian view of the world. He was the immediate predecessor of Mr. A and numerous other stories that Ditko has created since taking the self-publication route for his more, shall we say “political”, works.

Now if you’re wondering why DC Comics put out an archive (well, two) of these characters, they purchased most of the Charlton heroes (and villains) back in the early eighties and incorporated them into their own comic book multiverse in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series.

A side note: The Action Heroes almost ended up being deconstructed in their first major story for DC, as Alan Moore had wanted to use them for his epic tale Watchmen. DC didn’t like that idea, but they were used as inspirations (The Question = Rorschach, Captain Atom = Dr. Manhattan, Blue Beetle = Nite Owl, Nightshade = Silk Spectre, etc.).

The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2 reprints every Ditko-scripted or drawn adventure of the Question and Blue Beetle, and the revived run of Captain Atom. The issues in this volume are:

  • Captain Atom #83-89 (featuring Nightshade as his partner in many)
  • Blue Beetle #1-5, along with a black-and-white story intended for #6 (the Question was the back-up feature)
  • Mysterious Suspense #1 (featuring the Question)
  • Charlton Bullseye #1, 2, 5
  • And a Question story by Alex Toth.

Fan writer David Kaler contributed a couple of scripts, but nearly everything else in this book is Steve Ditko (he wrote under the alias of “D.C. Glanzman” among others). And it’s very good Steve Ditko was well. He doesn’t really have the opportunity to stretch his artistic vision as he did in Doctor Strange but he manages to work in a lot of space adventures for Captain Atom that are very reminiscent of this long run of work on Charlton and Marvel science fiction and monster comics in the fifties. His Blue Beetle is effervescent and nearly as action-filled as his Spider-man and later Creeper stories.

And the Question is … well, the Question is perhaps the most realistic hero Steve Ditko created for mainstream comics. And when I say “realistic”, I mean he was the most real as a part of Steve Ditko himself. The Question’s stories will seem, to the average comic reader today, very verbose. I would say that almost half of a page of a Question story was filled with captions or word balloons. And he did his best to make his Objectivist points, though with not nearly the uncompromising edge of the later Mr. A, who believed in good and evil and nothing in between the two. If this hadn’t been Charlton, with considerably lax publisher interference in the editorial department, I doubt that Mysterious Suspense would’ve ever been published. It is very good that it was, of course, since it is often called one of the highlights of Charlton’s entire publishing history, and one of the best single issues of ANY comic book series.

I read a good number of these stories when I was a little todger, when Woolworth was selling the Charlton books under the “Modern Comics” imprint. Both volumes of the Action Heroes Archives make it so nice to read these again, as the reproduction values are parsecs away from the originals. That was pretty much standard for Charlton Comics thought, and part of the nigh-perverse reason that many folks remember the company and its comics with such fondness today. They may have been a bit clunky (hell, I actually got a Charlton comic book a few years ago that had five sides), but the tales within were good examples of solid storytelling. The fact that this volume is nearly all Ditko is merely an added benefit.

One of the Charlton Bullseye reprints features an interesting story that finished off the Captain Atom series, and has artwork by Ditko but inked by a young John Byrne, before he came to fame at Marvel. Alex Toth’s Question story is exemplary.

I can’t really find any reason NOT to recommend this book. It’s really one of those books that should be required reading for any comic book artist, given the mastery of storytelling that Steve Ditko exudes. I think even the casual reader will enjoy it, especially if they’re old enough to remember any of these characters, or just the days when comics were printed on newsprint and sold in grocery stores. You can usually score it fairly cheap on Amazon or eBay (in the $20-40 range), which is a small price for revisiting a chunk of a happy childhood.

So on the new scale:

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