Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Load An Ebook File To A Reader Device

Being able to manually load a MOBI or EPUB file onto your ebook reader device is handy for a couple of reasons: it gives you a way to test a book before publishing it, and it allows you to read a book that you may have acquired outside of the normal retail channels (by purchasing it from an author’s web site for example).

I recently had to answer this question for one of my clients in Germany, so I decided to expand upon it a little and post it here for everyone. He has a Kindle device in particular, and wanted to test his book before publishing it to KDP, but the process is also similar for most recent dedicated ebook readers that accept EPUB files (Nook, Kobo, etc.) though you should double-check your particular device’s instructions sheet for it’s specific procedure.

Having an actual reader device is the very best way to test the formatted file that will become your ebook. It’s a good idea to give it a preliminary test—before publishing it, not after—so you can catch any mistakes that a reader of your book might object to. If your particular publishing service allows you to upload your book in something other than the finished MOBI or EPUB format (as a Microsoft Word DOC file, for example, or as an HTML file), it is especially important to check your converted book before the final publishing, since you need to know (before your customers do) what the converting computers have done to your book.

This is most important in the case of Amazon because of its extensive and complicated conversion process. I can’t stress enough that it’s especially important to test your Kindle book by downloading it back to your computer, after you have had Amazon’s KDP computers convert it but before final publishing, so you can have another very close look at it. Don’t just look at it online. Download it back to your computer.

The uploading of a file from your computer to your device is a fairly simple process, though it is specific:

1.) Use the device’s USB cable to plug it into your computer.
2.) After a moment, it will show up somewhere on your computer as an external hard drive or a jump drive or something like that.
3.) Charge up the device if it needs it. [If you are charging it for the first time, or after a long period of non-use, this charging session may take several hours.]
4.) Leave it plugged in. [One note here: never just unplug your device from the cable, or the cable from the computer, without ejecting the device from the computer first; you could scramble the device’s memory chips or the information that’s already on the device. Sometimes the damage is permanent, so don’t do it. Always eject it first.]
5.) On your computer, treat the device like an external drive, i.e., select it and open it so you can see what’s in it.
6.) You should see a list of folders/directories.
7.) One of them should be named something like “documents.”
8.) Open it.
9.) Now drag the formatted file from your computer to the “documents” folder.
10.) Wait a few seconds for the device to assimilate the file into its memory. [I wait about 15 seconds. Ebook reader devices do not work as fast as personal computers, so it takes them a little longer to do stuff, and there may not be any indication on the device’s screen that anything is happening.]
11.) Eject the device from the computer screen, wait a few seconds more for the device to get itself all re-set again, and then unplug the USB cable from the device.
12.) In a few more seconds the device will re-organize all of its files, and your file will show up in the list of books. It will be at the top of the list if you have your books sorted on your device by “Most Recent First” or something similar.
13.) Open your book, page through it, check all of the sections including the Table of Contents, and see if the book looks and works the way that you expect. If not, make notes about what needs to be fixed.
14.) To remove that file, go to the screen on the device that lists the books that are on it (on my Kindle Keyboard that screen is called “Home”), select that book, and delete it.
15.) Then, fix your manuscript, re-format it into an ebook file again, and try this all again.
16.) When it looks the way that you want on your device, continue with the publishing process.

I hope that this helps. If you have a question that I have not answered here, leave me a comment and I’ll try to clear it up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

EBOOK BASICS: the Table of Contents

There are two major types of ebook formats out there: EPUB books and MOBI books.

EPUB books are sold by Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and others.

MOBI books are sold by Amazon. Though they are often referred to as “Kindle” books, there are now actually two formats that are used for Kindle books: MOBI, and Amazon’s new (and proprietary) KF8 format. I will leave KF8 for another time and deal with Amazon’s MOBI format (and MOBI-specific reading devices) here. If anything that I say here is in contradiction to how the KF8 format works, remember that I’m speaking about MOBI, and, until KF8 becomes more common, there are now and will continue to be for a long time far more MOBI books for Kindle devices than KF8. Because of that, I use “MOBI” and “Kindle” interchangeably here.

Though each of these ebook types is also sold by various small, independent retailers, the companies that I mentioned are the ones that make up the bulk of ebook sales worldwide.

There are two Table of Contents types that are present in ebooks:

1.) the first type is the separate, not-part-of-the-text Table of Contents (also known as an “NCX Table of Contents”), and it is the most ubiquitous. All properly-formatted ebooks have one (even semi-properly-formatted ones do), whether they are MOBI books (where it is normally invisible and often hard to get to) or EPUB books (where it is also normally invisible but is very easy to get to).

In EPUB books this Table of Contents type becomes visible when the reader clicks on the “Table of Contents” button. It is displayed as a single scrolling list of chapters on which you can click and be taken to the corresponding section of the book. (I’ll speak about how Kindle devices handle this type in a moment.)

2.) the second type is the visible-and-clickable-within-the-text Table of Contents (also known as an “HTML Table of Contents”), and it is the one that is most useful for MOBI books though (unfortunately) can be the most difficult to create and place within a book. (There’s an easy way around this that I’ll speak about in another post.)

Unlike the NCX type (which on a Kindle device or app is often difficult or even impossible to get to), an HTML Table of Contents is almost always visible within the running text and is displayed just like any other page of the book, except that it is composed entirely of clickable links that correspond to the various sections of the book. It is most often found right near the beginning of the book or at the very end, and can usually be gotten to merely (though sometimes tediously) by turning enough pages until you arrive. It can be as short as a single page or, in books with many chapters, several pages long.

A Kindle device will sense its presence in the book and will make it more easily available by listing it in in the book’s “Go to…” list. The “Go to…” list is a handy little window which, with a couple of clicks, pops up and gives the reader a list of places to “Go to” within the book. A complete “Go to…” list consists of six items: table of contents, beginning, page, cover, end, and location. Without an HTML Table of Contents, the “table of contents” item in the “Go to…” list will be grayed out and un-clickable. Without a clickable Table of Contents, getting to a particular spot within an ebook can get very tedious very quickly.

A Kindle book’s NCX Table of Contents is how the device keeps track of four of the other “Go to” items: the beginning, the cover, the end, and any specific location within the text that you might want to go to. People have a tough time specifying a “location” with a Kindle book because “location” to a Kindle does not correspond to any particular page or chapter. It has something to do with approximately how many kilobytes of data you are from the beginning of the book, so it’s not generally very useful to people. (Aren’t you glad that you asked?) It’s useful to the machine, though (and, thus, in this case here to you), because it’s this “knowing the distance from the front of the book” that enables the Kindle to place your bookmarks into the text.

The NCX also keeps track of the beginning of each chapter (even though the device often won’t show you the list). This makes it possible on certain Kindle devices (the Kindle Keyboard is one) to, with just a click, jump to the start of the next chapter. This is certainly easier than going page-by-page but is still no cakewalk if you want to get to Chapter 43. That’s why an HTML Table of Contents is so important in a Kindle book.

The two places where I’m sure that a Kindle book’s NCX Table of contents will be visible are the Kindle for Mac/PC app and the downloadable Kindle Previewer, which is used to test a Kindle book before it’s published. Using either of those apps, if you click on the button for the HTML Table of Contents for a book that doesn’t have one, you will get an error message stating that the Table of Contents is “missing” (as though the HTML Table of Contents is the only one). On the other hand, if you click on the button for the NCX one, it will be quite visible and clickable. I’m not sure if any of the actual Kindle devices will show the NCX Table of Contents. If not, you’re left with only the “Go to” items again. (By the way: if you click on the NCX button and are told that even that one is missing, the formatting for that book is really messed up and will be very difficult for a reader to navigate.)

The last “Go to” item, the page, is visible in those Kindle books that have been specially coded to have actual page counts that correspond to what the page number would be if it were a printed book. Some people have thought for a long time that this might be useful, so Amazon made this coding ability available not too long ago for those programmers who want to take advantage of it. Personally, I don’t.

A book’s “Go to…” list is especially useful when the Table of Contents is at the end of the book. Why would you want the Table of Contents there? Because that way it takes no space away from the book’s sample pages, which, for books that are for sale on Amazon, consist of the first ten per cent of the book. You want the sample to be as useful and enticing as possible to a potential customer, something that’s difficult when a good portion of the sample is several pages of nothing but “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,”… “Chapter 43,” etc. If, on the other hand, your chapter titles are interesting and descriptive (“Chapter 1: How I Got Thin in 30 Days”) then, yeah, keep the Table if Contents in the front, where it will be seen as part of the sample.

Interestingly, though Kindle books should have both Table of Contents types, many times they do not. Amazon supposedly requires it (that requirement is, in fact, stated in its Publishing Guidelines) but they do not seem to enforce that requirement in actual practice. That means that many Kindle books (especially self-published ones) have only an NCX Table of Contents, which, for the reasons stated above, can be a real drag. EPUB books, on the other hand, need only the NCX type. An HTML type is superfluous since, with a click or two, an EPUB book’s NCX Table of Contents pops up for you to see and click on, and doesn’t even take pages away from the book’s sample.

I hope that this helps. How a Table of Contents for your book is actually created I will discuss in another post. Leave a comment with any questions, concerns, or suggestions for future topics.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Opening My Big Mouth

I’m beginning a series of tutorials here in my blog, and I’m doing it for a couple reasons.

The first is that they seem to be needed. Writing a book well is difficult enough as it is. Having to also learn how to format it into an ebook is, understandably, a bit beyond most people’s ability to do on their own. I get asked for help all of the time, from readers of my books, from people who post on forums, from fellow authors. So, I’m going to help you.

The second reason is that too many formatting forums and boards have been taken over, and are now dominated, by self-styled “experts” who, in fact, are not so expert after all.

Some poor, overwhelmed author writes in, explaining his formatting problem, and says what he wants to do. And one of these “experts” answers him and says that you can’t do that, or that you can only do that his way, or that one really should just make the commitment to learn how to code with HTML and then one wouldn’t have all of these problems.

And I sit there and shake my head because what the author wants is actually quite do-able—easily—without learning any code. I know this because I’ve done it, and it works just fine. The so-called “expert” has said something, in print, out there for the entire world to see, that is—to put it bluntly—not true.

The “expert” maligns a way of doing something, or an app, or a piece of hardware, because he couldn’t get it to work, when, in fact, the only reason that it didn’t work for him is because he never learned how to use it correctly, often because of his own ingrained prejudices. It works just fine if you know how to use it. In fact, it works great, especially for that poor author who just wants his Table of Contents to work, or wants to not have extra blank lines between his paragraphs, or can’t figure out why his indents are off.

Sometimes I write in an answer and tell the questioner how to accomplish what’s not working for him, though I’ve been doing that less and less lately. I don’t like to get into a back-and-forth with stupid, bigoted people (and here I mean bigoted in its broadest sense of “holding very strong opinions and being unwilling to accept different views; being prejudiced against those who are different from you”). I don’t like being accused of writing in only because I want to sell someone a copy of my book.

Well, I do want to sell my book. That’s why I wrote it. But the best way for me to do that is to solve your problem for you… for free. Because the next time that you have another problem, you just may say, “Hey. He did a good job for me last time. Maybe I could solve a bunch of my problems myself by just reading his book.” And then maybe you’ll buy one.

So I’m going to start solving a bunch of common ebook formatting problems here in this blog. Many will deal with Kindle books and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system, because that one is the most commonly used method used by self-published English-language authors. But I will also cover EPUB books, too, since that is the format that’s used by a far larger geographical area of the world. I know how to do these things because I have published books, using both Kindle and EPUB formats, on Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook bookstore, and Apple’s iBookstore.

If you’re patient, most of what you will need to know will show up here, for free, over the next several months, starting tomorrow.

If you want, or if you’re impatient to get started, you can buy my book anyway. I won’t mind.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Book is Number 1

My free book, MEMOGRAMS, is today #1 in Amazon Kindle Store >…> Spelling
and #3 in Amazon Kindle Store >…> Writing Skills

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Books

My MEMOGRAMS book finally went free today on Amazon. So, to summarize which of my books are where for how much:

Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book (my how-to book, $3.99 on Amazon)

MEMOGRAMS: Easy Anagrams of Hard-to-Spell Words (free on Amazon)

The Adventures of Dough Girl (free on iTunes/iBooks)

MEMOGRAMS: Easy Anagrams of Hard-to-Spell Words (free on iTunes/iBooks)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Using the MOBI UNPACK utility that I mentioned earlier, you can “unzip” a MOBI file, whatever was used to create it, as long as it’s unencrypted and regardless of whether or not the MOBI file includes its source file.

When I open April Hamilton’s book, From Concept to Community, which I purchased from Amazon in March, 2011, I get a folder named mobi7 inside of which is:

images (folder)

There is no source file.

When I open one of my own books, Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book, which was created using Calibre, I get the mobi7 folder again, inside of which is:

images (folder)

Again, there is no source file.

However, when I open another of my own books, MEMOGRAMS, which was created from an EPUB file using the latest Kindlegen, I get two folders, mobi7 and mobi8, and a file named:

There’s the source file, which I can further unzip if I want, and I get:

kindlegensrc (folder) in which are the files:

META-INF (folder)
OEBPS (folder)

But I still have the two “mobi” folders to look at:

In the mobi7 folder I get:

images (folder)

In the mobi8 folder I get:

META-INF (folder)
OEBPS (folder)

All this is to say that it is possible to “unzip” a MOBI file. It doesn’t need to include a source file to do so, and it can be done even with MOBI files created with Calibre.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: “Om Sapphire” by Charlotte O’Neil

Charlotte O’Neil has done what no other author has done: made me want to read her book on no other device but a black-and-white Kindle, in my case my Kindle Keyboard. I say “read” advisedly because there’s nothing to read—it’s a picture book—once you get past the publishing text at the beginning… and past the instructions.

Ah, yes, the instructions. “Turn device sideways” she says, with a big looping arrow. Why? Because the entire book is a collection of pictures—75 of them, plus the cover, drawn with pen and India ink—that are all sized to exactly fit the screen of an e-ink Kindle, but they’re all done in horizontal format (in the graphics realm it’s called “landscape” format) so how do you view them? You turn the device sideways! What else?

And, you know what? It works. The black-ink-on-white-paper technique is perfect for the black-and-white screen that the majority of Kindle devices out there have. And the landscape format is great. It fills the screen with a single image and makes for one picture per page turn. I suspect that the way that her format ratio fits the Kindle screen may have been a little bit of serendipity (she says in her introduction that she used at various times A3, A4, and letter-sized sheets for the drawings) but I don’t care if it was that or if it was carefully planned. It just all fits together.

There is a con to all of these pro’s… the coding of the book is imperfect, which means that every other page turn is quite slow, but that’s a minor problem that could be easily fixed. (She should contact me.)

Her drawing style is interesting, and seems somehow more and more familiar the longer you look at it. Then it strikes you: these look like very elaborate versions of the stream-of-consciousness drawings that one makes when sitting in the back of a very boring class in school—one pen, one line width, one sheet of paper, many disparate images poring out onto the page—except these look like they were made by someone who is a better artist than the average high school or college student (she is, in fact, a mature woman with three children), and, as she says in her introduction, each drawing took about three weeks to complete.

It matters not if you like her drawings or her technique. Every budding picture-book author should get this book and study it. (It’s free, for today at least!) This is an important example of the true potential of a picture book specifically designed for the black-and-white Kindle platform. It could, in fact, be close to a perfect Kindle picture book.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sample Sunday

It’s time for Twitter’s Sample Sunday, so here is a sample from Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book


Are you a real graphics person? Do you know the difference between d.p.i., p.p.i., and absolute pixel size? Do you know what the term “resolution” truly means? Do you know why it’s O.K. to scale a graphic down but not up? If you cannot answer these questions, get some professional psychiatric help because you want to try to be a writer help with any graphics that you may want to include within the pages of your book.

If you do know the answers to all of those questions, then I need to tell you only a few things about the graphics in a typical Kindle book. The most important one: they are all what’s known as “inline.” The best way to think of an inline graphic is to treat it as if it’s a separate paragraph. Inline graphics move up and down the page as text is added and deleted above them. In a standard Kindle book none of the images are stationary on the page with text that flows (that is, that “wraps”) around them. Those are known as “floating” graphics and the standard Kindle code doesn’t support them.

An inline graphic can be aligned just like a paragraph, too: left, right, and center, but, unless you know what you’re doing and have a good design reason to do otherwise (as I did with the graphic ornaments that were used in this book for the chapter- and section headings), make all of your graphics centered on the page, just like a centered paragraph. They look better that way. All of the screen captures in this book—more than 100 of them—are centered like that.

All of your graphics should be in JPEG format. You may read various places that Amazon allows a few other formats for images, but which formats are allowed where—on the cover or the inside pages—can get confusing because they’re not all the same. JPEG is the one format that can be used both places. Don’t complicate things unnecessarily. Keep it simple. Amazon prefers your cover to be JPEG, so keep everything JPEG. And make sure that they’re uncompressed (more about that in Section 7.1: Size Matters).

That section speaks specifically about the cover of your book, but those same guidelines also pertain to any images that you add within the pages of your book, where you have the added choice of being able to shrink those images down to the size that you want them to be. Images can be added (using either the Insert > Picture menu or the drag-and-drop method) right into your manuscript, and, prior to conversion to HTML, shrunk to almost any smaller size on the page that you choose. This is one of the best reasons to check your Kindle book with the “Kindle Previewer” or an actual Kindle device, to make sure that the graphics show up at an acceptable size on the Kindle screen: not bigger than you want and not too small to be seen clearly.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Love Libraries

In honor of National Library Week, April 8–14, here is a video of my children at the library.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

And I Mean… Anyone!

I’ve finally gotten my latest book finished and up at Amazon. It’s called Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book and, if you are one of those—and there seem to be many—who have had endless trouble getting their own e-books to format correctly, this book is for you.

I mean that. It was written directly for you.

I found out myself that it took a lot of work to format my last book, Memograms. Too much work. Way too much work. I succeeded, eventually—it’s up and for sale and all that—but I knew that there had to be an easier way. I’m the best programmer I know and even I didn’t want to go through that again.

So I looked for an easier way. I checked the Kindle boards to see what other people said. What I found was that most people were saying, “HELP!” Further, the ones who wrote in to help them said stuff like, “HTML” and “regular expressions” and “code,” and I knew that most people couldn’t do that.

It’s not that most people are stupid. I knew that. I had been a corporate-level computer teacher in the past and I knew that most people could learn to do all that. It’s just that most people don’t want to have to. Most people have so much other stuff going on in their lives that they don’t have the time or the desire to learn programming, not even a little.

I mean… they’re lucky that they found the time to even get their book written, for goodness sake—now they have to learn programming just to put it up for sale? No way!

So, Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book is for you. You learned to use your word processor. You typed up your manuscript. That’s good enough. If you can do that, then you can format your book using the instructions in my book.

Don’t believe it? You’ve heard all this before and you think that I'm full of… nonsense?

Go to Amazon right now and download the free sample. It has enough pages to show you what can easily be done—what you can do.

I think that you’ll be excited. You’ll see that, indeed, anyone can make a Kindle book… even you.