Every time I see yet another article about the Amazon vs. Hachette stand-off that paints Amazon as a bully, I wonder if we really have become too lazy to think, or if it is just too tempting for even renown websites to give in to the temptation of sensationalism it creates, because when you look at what is really happening, nothing could be further from the truth.

The sentiment that Hachette may be a poor victim in this scenario is incomprehensible to me. Not only is Hachette neither poor, nor a victim. Amazon does not target individual companies, singles them out and then tries to destroy them by refusing to sell their products. Quite the opposite is true, actually. Amazon is dealing with hundreds of thousands of individual vendors and suppliers and not once in its history has it singled out any of their vendors with the kind of vindictive action that is constantly being suggested here. If anything, Amazon has always been an incredibly fair, flexible and forward-thinking partner to all its suppliers.

Let us not forget before we get deeper into this, that Amazon has single-handedly not only saved, but revived the book market not too long ago. Amazon has created a platform for authors to flourish, for books to bloom and all while making money for everyone. Evil? I don’t think so—unless you’re a conspiracy theorist.

There are more active and published writers today than ever. There are more books on sale than ever. There are more books being sold than ever, and there are more books being read than ever, I presume.

Let’s make no mistake. Before Amazon made all of this possible, the book industry was not only stagnant, it was dying. Fast! Meanwhile, the old-school business model of the Big Five publishers is dying still. Companies like Hachette simply do not have a grasp on the reality of book publishing in 2014. They are not adapting and as a result they are no longer needed. They have become a side show in a world where everyone can publish, where anyone can become a bestselling author. I am not saying they are obsolete, but they are no longer relevant and with every year going forward, they will be come increasingly marginal.

The fact how long this stand-off is lasting already, is a clear indication that Hachette is unwilling to bend, and clearly underscores who the real bully is. They could have agreed to Amazon’s standard publishing agreement for weeks now and would have continued to sell books, but they refuse to do so, expecting Amazon to make special arrangements for them. That is not very rational in anyone’s mind, and shows that Hachette is not even trying to resolve the problem, particularly when every blogger and journalist seems to be all too happy to support their sensational truth-contortion.

Hachette is acting like their jockstrap is pulled too tight. They seem to have this inflated opinion of themselves that makes them believe that they look all potent, yet at the same time they are too proud to admit it hurts. And hurt it does, but if Hachette is determined to self-destruct, I’m all for it. Whatever floats their boat. Amazon does not need Hachette, but Hachette most definitely needs Amazon to sell their books.

So what is the real conflict between Amazon and Hachette, actually, once you peel away the vitriol. In my experience, in cases such as this, there is always a backstory. Something that happened long before Amazon reverted to what could be considered flexing their muscle.

What Amazon does is very clearly a reaction. A response to something that happened before and left them little choice but to go on the offensive. Since the previous discussions and negotiations that have taken place between the parties are not being disclosed, we may never know what went really down, but I think it is not too far fetched to imagine that Hachette was not happy with the status quo and tried to force Amazon to comply with its wishes, guided by the sense that as one of the largest international publishers they could somehow force Amazon’s hand. What they failed to see was that Amazon could not care less about Hachette. It makes absolutely no difference to Amazon whether they sell Hachette books or not. With millions of other titles available in their catalog, Hachette is a mere speck on the map.

What’s even worse is that Hachette quite obviously forgot that Amazon controls the channel. Amazon sells the majority of books worldwide and as a result they control the terms. Like Wal-Mart, they do not negotiate with their suppliers. They have standard agreements that tell vendors what they need to do and what is expected of them, and if the vendor feels he can’t agree to these terms, Amazon won’t sell your products. It is as simple as that, and it is the vendor’s choice—and consequence. If a publisher like Hachette thinks they can manhandle Amazon, they’ve clearly got another thing coming—as we are witnessing right now.

Does that make Amazon evil? Not at all. If anything, it only shows once again, how removed publisher like Hachette are from the realities of being a book publisher in 2014. What we are witnessing is a decision on Amazon’s behalf to protect their business, to ensure they remain the most successful online store with the highest customer approval ratings on the planet.

Hachette, by comparison… not so much. How anyone could see Hachette as the good guy in all of this is inconceivable to me. It is not like the publisher has a track record of good behavior. In fact, this is a publisher stuck in an antitrust suit, currently being subject to a court order to renegotiate terms with retailers because they have been found to have artificially inflate prices. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Naturally in a stand-off such as this there is collateral damage, and in this case it’s the authors published by Hachette whose books are currently unavailable at the largest book store in the world. However, for these authors to simply claim that Amazon is evil because they are responsible for lost sales, is really not looking the facts in the eye.

Some of these authors complain that the loss of revenue destroys their livelihood. I am not entirely unsympathetic to this, but it is a problem we are all facing on a daily basis, so my answer to those authors is, if your livelihood depended on your Hachette book sales, perhaps you signed the wrong contract. You should have asked Hachette for proper guarantees, instead of giving them carte blanche and assuming they would always act in your best interest. Isn’t it rather naïve to be under the illusion that Hachette has any interest in protecting an author’s best interests? This is a company that has, for generations, made a business of bullying writers out of royalties, squeezing every cent out of their creative pool that provides the actual content for their business—meaning the authors—and then having the audacity to pretend it is all warranted and good business. Sorry, not following here… missed a turn somewhere.

By signing your current contract, you have allowed a book publisher to corner you, fob you off with a meager 25% or 30% royalty rate, making no guarantees whatsoever, making absolutely no commitment to you, delaying payments as long as they legally can. You signed the contract! It’s your own fault. You forgot one very crucial fact about the industry—Amazon is selling books, not Hachette. Hachette is a middleman, and of dubious reputation to boot, whose business relies one strategic partners. They antagonized their key partner and you are the pawn in all of this. Hachette is counting on you to be upset, you are their muscle—or so they believe. At the same time you have absolutely no way of controlling your destiny. You have signed away your rights without any chance of recourse, giving a bully free reign. So, don’t complain to the world how bad Amazon is. Try to be honest to yourself and face the music. You brought this upon yourself. Just earn from it and make better decisions next time!

But all contracts are like that, right? It’s the industry standard. This must be the lamest excuse ever. Only because authors allow publishers to exploit them doesn’t make it right, and authors could have changed things a long time around. There is strength in numbers and if authors would collectively refuse to give up their rights for a few bread crumbs, publisher would have had to raise the bar and offer better business terms a long time ago. But as it stands, there is always some desperate soul out there who’s willing to sell their book for chump change, just to see his name on a printed book published by an extortionist. Strange, I know, but I tell it how I see it. And the weirdest thing is that big names like Stephen King and James Patterson are actually among those people advocating this practice. Then again, not so strange, perhaps, considering that their publishing terms are much more favorable than yours, and that unlike you, they have the full backing of their publishers.

Meanwhile there is a flood of books coming out from writers who self-publish. They make more money per sale, they have full control over their books, they have full ownership in their books, and some of them even break out and sell millions of copies, managing their own destinies. It is an option that was open to all of Hachette’s authors as well, so once again, if you signed a cutthroat contract that leaves you hanging out to dry in this time of crisis, it certainly isn’t Amazon’s fault.

In addition, Amazon has released a statement on the subject some time ago in which the company even outlined plans to subsidize affected authors, provided that Hachette does the same thing. This put the ball squarely in the publisher’s court and yet, Hachette did not react to it. Instead they bought another publisher, Perseus Book Group, in order to gain leverage in their position against Amazon. Hahahaha! Earth to Hachette—you’re no longer relevant in the book world, and in case you didn’t notice, you are nose-diving!

So far, the overblown reactions to this confrontation have had a very orchestrated feel, to the point that you wonder if Hachette was actually buying off the media to build sentiment against Amazon. Leaked emails that Hachette sent to its authors seem to substantiate this, in which the publisher clearly contorts truths, and hides relevant facts and information even from the heart of its operations, the authors.

So, ask yourself? Who is the bully? The kid who keep pushing others around, posturing, threatening, intimidating, or the kid who eventually stands up for himself and fights back?

As many of you know, I’ve been a game developer for most of my life, and my career in the industry goes back over 30 years. As such, I have seen trade shows come and go, and I was there when the Electronic Entertainment Expo, now universally known as E3, was first conceived as the industry’s replacement for the Chicago CES show.

Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles Convention Center to visit this year’s E3, but what greeted me was more reminiscent of a visit to Disneyland than a trade show. Let me explain…

For the past two or three years a strange trend has permeated E3, one that is unique to this particular trade show. Exhibitors would take their showcase games and no longer display them on the show floor. Instead they would isolate them in a separate room in the actual booth, allowing only a few people inside to see the game, in the course, forcing people to line up to wait their turn. SquareEnix was probably the first company to do this, years ago, to show off the latest “Final Fantasy” entry and over time other publishers adopted the practice.

Well, this year it took a turn for the extreme, because if you were visiting E3 this year, the odds are you didn’t even see half the games that were on display. Instead you saw theme-park-like waiting lines in virtually every major publisher’s booth. In fact, half the booth space of exhibitors, such as Warner Interactive, consisted of nothing but roped-off waiting lines. Take a look at this picture.

E3_1
The entire length of the booth consisted of people waiting in line to see one of Warner’s top games. Because I was curious I actually decided to get in line to take a look at “Shadow Of Mordor,” the latest “Lord of the Rings” game, waited in line for almost 30 minutes, only to find that my line was cut off four or five guys ahead of me. Unable to get into that presentation I would have had to wait another hour to see the next one! Sorry, folks but that is just ludicrous.

E3_2

Or take a look at the presentation of “Bloodborne” at the Sony booth.

E3_4
The publisher deliberately placed the screen inwards so that you could not see the presentation from the outside. How backwards is that? Do you want people to see the game or not? How hard would it have been turn the booth 180 degrees and allow people walking by to see that game. It would have resulted in tons of additional exposure, but no, it is much more important to have people line up, clutter the rest of the booth and create a traffic block. Well done, guys!

What’s even more ridiculous is that some exhibitors made people line up to even check out games that have been already released. Electronic Arts, for example, forced people to line up, just to get their hands on “Titanfall,” an action shooter that was released three months ago! EA has never been known as a company with a lot of common sense, but this certainly scraped the bottom of the barrel.

This, of course, begs the question, are publishers afraid to show you their games? Not really. The answer is actually much simpler. It is sadly as juvenile as the games most of them make.

It all has to do with the opinion most publishers have of themselves. You have people in their marketing departments whose job it is to create excitement around the games they sell, and you have the executives of these companies whose job it is to turn a profit and make the shareholders happy. When you talk to these people, they all have one thing in common: They all think the games they sell are the best in the world and that the company they work for — which strangely changes very frequently — is the most important and influential player in the industry. In short, they live in this bubble where they make themselves believe the hype they are trying to create.

If you truly believe the success of your company or the sales of your game are determined by the length of the waiting line at E3, I have one word for you: psycho-analysis. Seriously, though, it is frightening to think that publishers are so simple-minded that they believe that bigger crowding in their booth buys them karma points and intimidates their competitors. (In their own minds, I have no doubt, their own crowds will always be the biggest and their lines will always be the longest, just as their company will always be the best.)

E3_3

Therefore, a post-E3 statement at Warner Interactive, might easily sound something like this — “Did you see how long the lines were to see Mortal Kombat X? People really loved that game.”

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, first of all, it completely misses the point, because just because people stood in line doesn’t mean they actually got to see the game, let away, liked it. Since they never got to see the game and stood in line simply based on the assumption that the game might be interesting, to deduce that people liked the game is no more valid than saying that, with its lines and all, the DMV must be the epitome of a happy place.

In the real world, at a really useful trade event, the statement could have been “Did you see the crowd and how excited people were that they could finally see Mortal Kombat X?“

But that would predicate that people actually had the chance to witness the game as an openly accessible presentation in the booth, which was clearly not the case at E3. I didn’t see a single frame of Mortal Combat X, or Shadows of Mordor, or the new Batman: Arkham Asylum, or The Sims 4 and countless other games. And it frustrates me. Not only the fact that I went to a trade show to see the latest games, but also the fact that publisher truly expect me to stand in line for hours to see a video clip for single game, then leave, wait in line for an hour to see a clip of their other game, and so forth.

In their desire to appear to be the show’s hot ticket, they mistake a waiting line for actual enthusiasm. Or then again, they do not mistake it, they are fully aware of the farce, but they are so misguided that they think YOU can’t tell the difference, because the reason they really do it is because in their mind, they believe that these lines, reflect positively on them and the game you’re trying to see. Creating this barrier, the game becomes this intangible, unreachable objective that everyone has to aspire to because if the waiting lines are so long, the game has to be so cool, right.

Boy, oh boy… I saw through that gimmick in first grade when my teacher tried to use gold stars to draw better performances and behavior out of us. It is sad to see that these huge business entities allow the handling of their trade shows to stoop down to the level of first-graders. Gamers are not stupid…

E3_5

As things go in the real world that I roamed in, the real sentiment among visitors at E3 these days is that they are disgruntled because they never even had the chance to see the game. Instead of spending the time talking to colleagues about the cool games we saw, creating real word of mouth interest, conversations around E3 were often taking place about how frustrating it is to get to see anything of interest. To assume that a visitor has an endless amount of time on their hands is completely half-baked and, frankly, stuck-up. Many industry professionals have to squeeze as much in a single day as they can, and there is no room to wait in line for hours on end. Evidently, for people who are working the trade-show booths this is not an issue because to them it is one large three-day event, but for the throngs of visitors it is not.

So, in the end, exhibitors are really shooting themselves in the foot with this practice. I would have been happy to tell people about how great “The Sims 4” looks, how amazing “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” or how cool “Shadow of Mordor” seems to be, but I can’t and I won’t, because I never saw the games, and to me that is a joke. It is a sign for me that the industry has lost all perspective in its self-indulgent make-believe bubble. You either want to show off your product, or you don’t. If the latter is true, you have no place on the trade show floor, and if the number of guards, whose job it is to make sure no one’s jumping lines, outnumbers the number of presenters in your booth, you know that you definitely got something wrong.

E3 is the only trade show I’ve ever seen with this kind of practice. These are not closed door meetings, which have their value and purpose, but public displays that deliberately shun visitors to create the illusion of something special. To me, that is just backfiring. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and, quite honestly, I no longer care if “Shadow of Mordor” is any good or not. I have lost interest… good job!

zencover I honestly had not expected how much work it would be, putting together my book Zen of eBook Formatting. After all, I had the blog tutorial to build upon, and yet, it took me many months to flesh out the final book, add in all the little details and additions, and tweak it to make sure it is as accurate as I can make it. Part of it had to do with the fact that eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility.

eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility

While the original “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial is still every bit as relevant and applicable today as it was when I first published it a few years back, as soon as you want to go beyond the most basic formatting features, you get caught up very quickly in the morass of device limitations and quirks.

With each new device generation new problems are being introduced, and considering that we are now looking at fifth or sixth generation devices, one can quickly get lost in the maze of dos and donts of eBook formatting.

I am not pointing fingers here because every manufacturer contributes to the problem. Apple with its incompatible ePub implementations in iBooks for one, Amazon for other limitations and countless firmware bugs, Barnes&Noble for a different set of firmware bugs. Each of them making it harder for eBook formatters to navigate these waters and create reliable products.

Switching a font face, for example should be a completely trivial thing. According to the HTML standards which underly both the MOBI and EPUB format, you should be able to switch fonts anytime on a block level. Sadly, this is not true in the world of eBooks.

Typically a code snippet like this should work fine on any device, assuming we have a span style called “newfont” that sets a different font family.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont">switch the font</span></p>

Sadly, all of Apple’s iBooks devices and software do not follow this standard. Not even a snippet like the following one works.

<p class="newfont">Let’s switch the font</p>

iBooks does not recognize font family settings in <p> and <span> elements, which is completely inconsistent with HTML standards. It is not a mere oversight, however, because Apple has been dragging this problem through all iterations of iBooks, since its inception years ago. One can only wonder what Apple’s software engineers are thinking.

If device manufacturers would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like these would not be needed

I found that oftentimes I have to double-stitch solutions, nesting different solutions, so that if one doesn’t work there is always a fallback. The work-around to fix this particular problem is to use another block-level tag in order to pass the information to iBooks.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont"><cite class="newfont">switch the font</cite></span></p>

While this is not the most elegant solution, and purists will scream out at the misuse of the <cite> tag here, the reality of things is that as eBook formatters we currently cannot afford to be purists. We need formatting challenges solved and in this case <cite> addresses a very specific problem. If Apple would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like this would not be needed.

I found that the same kind of double-stitching is sadly needed if you want to strike out text, as in draw a line through it. It is not a very commonly used text feature, but if you need it, it is imperative that it shows up correctly.

Instinctively you would use the <strike> tag, which has been part of the HTML vocabulary since its inception. <strike>, however, has been discontinued with the HTML5 standard, and as a result there are now eReaders that no longer support it. They require the <del> tag instead, which, quite by coincidence, is not supported by some older devices, of course.

As in many cases, double-stitching the solution is the way to go for me and whenever I have to strike out text, it will look like this.

<p>This is how you <strike><del>strike out</del></strike> text.</p>

Once again, not the most elegant solution, but as you format eBooks, you will have to get used to seeing things such as this more and more often. As I said, with every new generation of eBook devices, the number of these types of inconsistencies will grow and the need to find and apply band-aid solutions will sadly grow with it.

If you want to find out more about basic and advanced eBook formatting techniques, make sure to check out my new book Zen of eBook Formatting, which details all the necessary steps to create professional-grade eBooks.

Zen of eBook Formatting is now available!

The past months I kept myself busy completing a new book on the subject of eBook formatting, as many of you may know. I am happy to announce that the book is finally available! For only $5.99 you can now benefit from the years of experience I have had as a professional eBook formatter, learning the ins and outs and the tricks of the trade I have applied to many hundreds of eBooks from New York Times bestselling writers and indie authors alike.

zencoverZen of eBook Formatting is in the same vein as my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial series, but it goes way beyond that, as it is vastly expanded and updated. In the book I am taking readers through the entire workflow that I am using every day for the projects I am working on for my clients. In an easy to understand manner—I hope—I am not only explaining the steps, but also explain why these steps are necessary and why I do things the way I do them. The result is a tutorial-style self-help book that is chock full with examples, tips and coding snippets.

Having formatted well over 500 eBooks at this time, I am covering the entire process, from the basic manuscript cleanup, to the basics of HTML and simple markup, all the way to advanced techniques that allow you to add an incredible amount of polish to your eBooks without necessarily sacrificing device compatibility.

Just to give you an impression of the breadth of subjects I am covering, here is the Table of Contents for you.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1 – The Road to Right
    • Understanding eBook readers
    • Why you should not use a word processor
    • The road to Right
    • Tools of the trade
  • 2 – Data Structure
    • HTML
    • CSS
    • Prepping your style sheet
  • 3 – Cleaning Up the Manuscript
    • The Power of Em
    • Time to clean up your manuscript
    • Fixing up styles
  • 4 – From Word Processor to Programming Editor
    • Nice, clean and predictable in HTML
    • Paragraphs are the meat
    • Fleshing it out
    • Dealing with special characters…the right way
    • A word about fonts
  • 5 – General Techniques
    • Centering content
    • Images
    • Image resolution
    • Chapters
    • Typography and Layout
  • 6 – Advanced Techniques
    • Chapters
    • Initials
    • First-line capitalization
    • Formatting inserts and notes
    • Formatting emails and text messages
    • Image blocks with byline
    • Custom fonts
    • Linking to the outside world
    • Lists
    • Backgrounds and Color
  • 7 – eBook Generation
    • eBook formats
    • Meta-Data
    • The Cover
    • The TOC in the digital world
    • Calibre
    • More control with XPath
    • KindleGen
    • Error-checking
  • 8 – eBooks Outside the Box
    • A Word about Fixed-Layout Books
    • Preparing for Smashwords
  • Parting Thoughts
  • 9 – Appendices
    • Chart of named entities
    • Resources
  • About the Author
  • Also by Guido Henkel

The key to me, when putting together this book, has been to make it possible for anyone to create an eBook that has a professional level of presentation. Too many authors use shortcuts to create eBook version of their manuscripts, flooding the market with broken and sub-par product that leaves a bad taste in readers’ minds, when in fact, applying a little bit of discipline could elevate them from that riffraff and make their books like a million bucks.

Zen of eBook Formatting is targeted at all those of us, who care about their books, not only the words we wrote, but also that they are presented to the reader in a clean and professional manner that works on as many eReaders as possible. Hopefully, with Zen of eBook Formatting at hand, this goal will be within reach for many more authors.

Grab your copy of the book an Amazon now!

Over the past three years or so since I first published my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” series of tutorials here on the site, a lot of people have asked if I would make the tutorials available as an eBook as well. For a number of reasons I never created an eBook on the subject, in part because I simply could not spare the time to put it together. If I wanted to release something like this as an eBook it would clearly have to be cleaned up and expanded upon in order to warrant any sort of price tag attached to it.

Well, over the past few weeks I took a look at the tutorials again and I have finally decided to create an eBook on the subject of eBook formatting. Since my tutorial series has become the de facto standard in the industry and is being used by countless authors to prepare their books for the market, I felt it was finally time to take it to the next level.

As I pointed out above, creating a mere reprint of the blog tutorials is not at all what I have in mind. Instead I have spend these past weeks reworking the instructions to give the entire process a clearer structure, but also to add many of the topics and elements that I did not touch upon in these tutorials. The tutorials were designed, really, to get people started, but with a book I feel it requires a lot more in-depth information to be of any value at all. It needs to be more complete, and as a result, the book will consist of a section with basic techniques that will get you to your first eBook, much the way the tutorials did, but in addition, the book will contain a section with advanced techniques in which I will describe how to achieve certain effects and how to handle certain formatting challenges that pop up every day, but require a bit more explanation and additional skill. Naturally, I am trying to keep it very accessible still to ensure readers can easily follow the instructions and examples.

Over the years I have seen many blogs that touch upon the subject of eBook formatting and some of the posts I came across were frightening—in the sense that they promoted techniques that are highly unsafe. While they achieved the goal for that particular individual, oftentimes the approach was nothing short of reckless, using very specific device capabilities without pointing out to the user that this behavior is not supported by other devices or that it can actually create unexpected behavior and lead to page corruption. Clearly, these authors never had the time to fully explore the techniques they were proposing, or didn’t have the foresight that their suggestion could create more problems than they actually solved.

In my book I have maintained my long-held stance that eBook compatibility is one of the highest priorities. The goal is to create eBooks that look good on any reader out there, whether it is a tiny cell phone or a large desktop computer. I am a professional eBook formatter (Click here for more information if you are interested in my services) and I have prepared more than 700 books for release in the market, by an enormously wide range of authors and styles. Of these 700 books not a single one has been known to cause formatting problems, clearly showing that with insight and forethought, it is possible to create eBooks that are compatible even in a market as fragmented as eBooks.

I am sure it won’t surprise you that many of the techniques outlined in my book will cover the subject of eBook formatting from that angle, offering up safe solutions, or, where no safe solutions are available, at least pointing out the risks and challenges and how they can be minimized by the formatter.

Filled with tips, tricks, techniques, examples, screenshots and plenty of code, the book will hopefully become a one-stop solution for all authors who want to dive in to the technical side of their eBook projects.


Would you like to use my services?

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.

Do you need a cover for your book? Check here for more information.

In need of an author website or blog? Email me at for more information.

We are heading into year six of the digital book revolution and while there have been tremendous advancements in the sector, one thing has not changed a bit. There still is no magic bullet for eBook formatting. It’s not even anywhere on the horizon.

Dragonlance1In a time where eBook readers have become increasingly powerful and capable, and where more authors than ever put their content out in the market, one would think that formatting manuscripts to publish them as eBooks should be as trivial as exporting them from a word processor, but alas, that is not the case. Whether it’s releases from small indie authors or titles from major publishers, I continued to stumble across eBooks that are shoddy at best. Just a few months ago I was re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles by Hickman/Weiss—a staple of high fantasy literature that has been in print for 30 years now, and yet, the eBook versions are an abomination in many ways. While it is evident that some work went into the books, they are nonetheless riddled with formatting errors that clearly show that no one at Wizards of the Coast took a single look at the books once they were formatted, let away read them before they went out the virtual door.

Is that truly the promise of the digital age? That we have to content ourselves with mediocre quality and sloppy presentations? It is just because it’s easy and cheap to produce and anyone with a computer can do it? Or is it because price points have come down so much, resulting in content creators and publishers no longer caring about the products the way they used to, because it’s all considered shovelware, anyway?

I’ve said it many times, but it is well worth repeating. The formatting of your eBook is every bit as important as your cover and your story. If your book becomes unreadable because line breaks are mutilated, margins jump all over the place, fonts get butchered, graphics become indistinguishable or errant page breaks destroy the flow, you are in trouble. I have put aside more than a handful of books after a few chapters because I found the reading experience too egregious — and I am sure that I am not the only one. (I remember vividly, the first one this ever happened to me was Charlie Courtland’s “Dandelions in the Garden,” for which I paid $9.99 on the Kindle and had to put down after two chapters because every single page was riddled with a multitude of typos, grammatical errors and formatting flaws-all of which the author herself considered a matter of personal taste and absolutely acceptable.)

Sure, the temptation is enormous as a writer. You have finally completed your book after a year’s worth of writing and—hopefully—tweaking, and without a publisher to hold you back for another year, you are eager to put your work out in the market, in the hands of readers. Nothing wrong with that. The problem really starts when you believe that the “Export as ePub” function in your word processor is your road to an instant release.

Kitt PirateWord processors are a great piece of software, but they are designed to write text and to do a bit of layout work, perhaps. All of it with your computer screen or a printed page in mind. Absolutely nothing in a word processor is designed for the requirements of eBooks. The famed “Export as ePub” function was nothing but an afterthought in that software, that has been included because someone thought it may help sell a few extra copies of the word processor or entice the growing army of aspiring digital authors to finally upgrade their software package.
eBooks have very specific requirements, capabilities and limitations, and they are not adequately represented by word processors. Things that look right on the screen or the printed page may not work the same way on an eBook reader.

While it is possible to create a good eBook with a word processor, it requires intimate familiarity with the software’s features. If, for example, you do not know what the difference between a soft and a hard line break is, let away how to create each, or if you do not know how to properly space text and paragraphs, the odds are, you won’t be able to create a solid eBook output. If you’re not familiar with your word processor’s style functions and are not religiously and obsessively using them, or if you do not know how to properly create an automatic bulleted list in your word processor, chances are that you are not ready to export your manuscript as an eBook using the “Export as ePub” feature. The list goes on like this.

I am not here to make you feel bad, because considering how complex word processors are these days, few of us truly master the software. But that’s not the point. You don’t have to, if you’re a writer. Your job is to write a cool story, pack it all up nicely in a suspenseful and engaging way that keeps readers glued to your words. Making sure it fits the technical limitations of an eBook reader is someone else’s job. Or rather, it should be. Someone with an understanding of the technical side of things, and with the ability to whip your writing into such shape that it works on any device. It’s a specialized field of expertise where the experience you purchase will save you countless hours of headache and will protect you from having to deal with potentially countless upset readers and customers.

It may be fulfilling to see your complex layout with text flowing around images and wonderfully elaborate drop cap initials on your iPad after exporting it as an ePub file from your word processor, but have you ever wondered, what the book may look like on another device? An early-generation Kindle, a Nook, perhaps, or the Kobo reader? What about a tiny cell phone or a retina computer retina display? Not all devices that people read your books on are equal. There are huge gaps in capabilities between various devices, and your software exporter cannot—and will not—accommodate them. It won’t even try. It will try to create what the programmer who wrote it deemed best, even if it means that in the real world you are leaving 90% of the market by the roadside.

Even within device families there are enormous capability differences. The Kindles, for example, by far the most popular eBook readers, range from a device that is barely capable of displaying an image (Kindle 1) to a full-blown tablet that can do virtually anything, including play games. Most Kindle devices have serious glitches and firmware bugs that got progressively worse with each generation. I made a blog post about the subject three years ago and it is frightening to see that Amazon never addressed as single one of these “10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle”. So, when you format an eBook, you definitely need to be mindful of these differences and idiosyncrasies at all times.

But back to even the general capabilities. Amazon for all the great stuff they’ve been doing for the eBook revolution, has completely dropped the ball on various fronts over the past years, clearly indicating that the company simply looks forward without ever trying to patch up previous mistakes. As a result there is no easy way to bridge these different capabilities in any workable way.

Ideally you would want the ability to create dedicated eBooks for devices with different capabilities, but sadly Amazon and every other distribution outlet does not allow for that. You have to have one build of your book that serves all devices. While Amazon allows a bit of conditional formatting, it is in reality very basic stuff that is so rudimental that it is mostly useless. Therefore you are forced to build your eBooks for a common denominator and you have to make sure it will work on all the devices out there.

No “Export to ePub” feature does that, which brings us back to the point that you should work with people who specialize on that kind of thing. As you may know, I have written an extensive eBook formatting tutorial some time ago, and I am offering eBook and print formatting as services. The truly amazing thing about the tutorial is that over time it has become the de facto standard for the industry and that that even now, four years after I wrote it, it is still valid and applicable in every single aspect. In a world where technology moves at such a rapid pace, it is clearly a testimony to the quality of the underlying fundamentals of the tutorial. Every book formatted following the tutorial still works on every device out there, and it is still the same general process I apply when formatting my clients’ eBooks.

On the IslandIf you would rather focus on your writing and leave the technical aspects of your ebooks to people like me, feel free to send me an email. I have formatted over 700 books, all of which are available in eBook stores worldwide, and many of them are full blown bestsellers selling hundreds of thousands of copies. And among these roughly 700 books, not a single one has caused any problems in the past!

If you want to make sure your readers are happy with the eBook you sold them, and if you want to make sure the books won’t be returned because of weird glitches or formatting errors, feel free to take a look at this page where I am outlining my services and my fees. I am happy to work with all sorts of authors and publishers, big and small, to make sure they can publish their books with confidence.

Forget about the promises of a magic bullet. It does not exist. Instead, take the proper steps to ensure the quality of your eBook from the inside out.

For more information and professional tips and tricks, please make sure to also check out my new book Zen of eBook Formatting, which is now available on Amazon.

Look what I found…

While I was going through materials and documents I just stumbled across this 1999 interview with GameWeek Magazine. The magazine is no longer around and folded in 2002.

It’s a bit of nostalgia and one of the interviews I like and remember most coming out of my “Planescape: Torment” era. Since many of you may never have seen this, or may not remember, I thought I’d post this little gem for you.



Click on the image for an enlarged version

It’s always fun to find little things like this one somewhere in your stash. I hope you will enjoy the read.

The Deathfire Kickstarter is live!

If you’ve been following the development of my current game project, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore,” you may be aware of the fact that we are currently trying to find this project on Kickstarter.

Here is a short trailer for the game, which taken from the full Kickstarter pitch video. Check it out and see if this is something you like.

So far we’ve already raised almost $40k, but it will be a long, hard way to the end, to get the full funding in place for the game, which is necessary to make the Kickstarter succeed.

Fortunately, you can help – even if you’re not into games and even if you don’t care for this one in particular perhaps. Why? Because your friends, relatives or acquaintances might be interested, and all I would ask of you is to share the good news. And to make it really easy for you, I have even prepared a couple of buttons, so that with three simple clicks, you can do a tremendously good deed and support our efforts. Just click on the link below, if you would,and my eternal thanks will be guaranteed. not to mention that your karma will go through the roof!

deathfiregame.com/ks/share/Share.html

As you may recall, “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” is a single-player party-based fantasy role-playing game that combines deep characters and solid storytelling with turn-based combat. One of the really cool things about the project is that we have a great team, consisting of people I have known and worked over the past 25 years or so. Some of our team members go back with me as far as “Shadows over Riva.” How cool is that?

It is a fun project to develop, and we’re trying to make something that truly harkens back to the traditional role-playing games of the Golden Era, when we all glued to our screens playing “Realms of Arkania,” “Wizardry,” “Might&Magic” or “Dungeon Master” and such. Creating the same kind of depth and attachment, but wrapping it in new technology and a beautiful visual presentation, we hope that “Deathfire” will truly speak to people who love classic role-playing games. After all, it’s what we know how to do best.

The Deathfire Development Diary has moved

I know that I have been remiss on this, and I apologize, but we opened the official website for my current game project “Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore” a little while ago and have transferred all the Development Diary entries over there. Instead of updating both blogs constantly, I think I will stop posting these updates here and will do them on the official site instead.

In case you missed the past update, we released a series of screenshots recently, showing some of the interiors of one of the game’s dungeons. You can find the post here, complete with a bit more background information.

Today, I have also posted a new Development Diary update, talking briefly about a number of new members who have joined the “Deathfire” team recently. Make sure to stop by and check it out, because the post also sports two new screenshots showing off some of the improvements we have been working on in the past weeks, to increase the visual impact and atmosphere of our scenery in Unity.

While venturing through the catacombs somewhere in the depths of the Ruins of Nethermore the other day, we stumbled across a strange set of notes. They seem to be coming from the pages of a diary. In fact, someone suggested, they might be a diary entry from the great elven wizard Tesselar.

Tesselar

Long and heated discussion broke out over this suggestion here in our offices, but the more we did our research, the more it became evident, that the handwriting does indeed seem to match that of the legendary Tesselar. We also discovered hints in various reports that the elusive wizard-who-walks-the-ages has been seen approaching the Nethermore Mountains some weeks past, shortly after the initial outbreak of the undead plague. Tesselar’s appearance is significant, of course, in many ways, because the wizard magister had not been seen for many years prior, and the only explanation for his presence in the Nethermore region is that he has been following the same goal as ours… to find the source and stop the horrors of the walking dead, just as these mysterious notes indicate.

You are skeptical? Well then, read for yourself…

Tesselar's Diary

Earlier today, I reached an intersection in the tunnels deep beneath the Nethermore Mountains. The stench that lay heavy in the air down here was so overpowering that my knees began to buckle. I had to lean heavily on my staff as bile rose in the back of my throat, triggered by the stench of decay and rot that surrounded me. I was wrestling with the many emotions that flooded over me at the sight that lay before me. So bizarre was it that I have to commit it to paper in detail. No part of it must be lost or forgotten. For some reason, I have a sense that what I’ve been looking at is more important than it may seem just now, and I may need to rely on my notes at some later point.

The path before me was rough. Here, deep beneath the Earth, the bedrock had chiseled its own path, the force and sheer weight of tons of granite forcing itself between the old walls of the catacombs, creating deep rifts, and cracking the overhead structures with ease. I was surrounded by silence, except for reluctant drops of water that echoed in the distance as they dripped to the ground. The soft, shimmering light from my staff struggled to penetrate the darkness before me.

The peaceful silence was deceiving, for I was surrounded by at least one dozen animal carcasses; cadavers that appeared to be clawing at each other even in the moment of death that had caught up with them no more than two days ago. Reluctantly, I stepped toward the rotting flesh, careful not to trip on the brittle ground. Wet and black from the sewage and blood, my rope was steeped up to my ankles. As I looked closer, the light of my staff revealed that these were no animals. At least not ordinary animals. Their rat-like bodies were decidedly humanoid and must have been at least as tall as a man. The cadavers were clad in armor and carried weapons, as far as I could tell from their shredded remains.

As my gaze roved across the floor I noticed another dead creature among them. Amongst the rat-like warriors lay slender, insect-like body parts, their severed heads staring at me with dully facetted, expressionless black eyes. What a massacre… what rage… not a single victim that was left intact.

But then, from the corner of my eyes I noticed a single rat, somewhat separated from the others. Lying partially obscured in the shadows, this one was not humanoid, but instead it was enormous… easily the size of a fully grown Worg. The animal had deep cuts on its head and hideous lacerations along its flanks – wounds far beyond anything that healing powers could salvage, and yet, a last dying spark of life was still glimmering in the eyes of this animal.

I took another step closer and slowly reached out my hand. I could sense the animal’s wealth of emotions. This was clearly no ordinary animal. Its sense of sadness swept over me, so profound that it threatened to bring tears to my eyes. I felt its exhaustion from the battle and the deathly wounds. It was intelligent… comparable to the mind of a child, perhaps, but intelligent nonetheless. And it was dreaming… the feverish hallucinations of a life dwindling away with every heartbeat.

I had to know what had happened here! Especially in light of the fact that I have to continue on this path through these very catacombs. I gently place my hand on the animal’s matted fur, right between its dimming eyes. Only barely did I register the saddle on the animal’s back at that point, because already, its confused memories that wound their way through its dying mind began to appear before my own mind’s eye.

Rat

Giant rats were battling in the ruined halls of some ancient temple. Side by side with their humanoid, armor-clad brethren, the giant rats fought with the desperate ferocity of cornered animals, as wave after wave of their opponents broke upon them. Humans! The images I saw were blurred and out of focus, and I felt the animal was passing quickly now, its heartbeat already slowing to a crawl. Among the carnage I witnessed an opponent’s torso being ripped to pieces, its human body crashing lifelessly to the ground. As it lay there in rivulets of crimson blood, it began to regenerate itself and the corpse rose yet again to continue the fight. As more and more rats fell, the odds became overwhelming, and before this horde of relentless, undead warriors, the surviving rats eventually fled into bottomless pits and uncharted sewer channels to escape the bloodshed.

That is where it all started, I realized! The undead flood. The walking dead. The ancient temple ruins. This is where I will have to go!

Another image appeared before my mind’s eye just then, of another battleground. Dank cave tunnels this time. The rats were tangled up in fighting yet again, only this time without their humanoid brethren by their sides. An emotion came with the vision of the battle scene, a different sensation… hunger. The rats were starving. I witnessed as flitting images of eggs danced before my eyes. Food for the rats, much of the shells cracked and empty. Food aplenty. And there were flashes of weapons! Guards! A number of insectoid creatures, heavily armored in their chitin shells, were pummeling the rats, slowly driving them back, away from the eggs. A froth of saliva shot from the insect creatures’ mouths like projectiles, as they poisoned the rats, paralyzing them and finally capturing them as they lay helplessly on the floor.

As I tried to piece together the fragmented vision that had spun through my mind, it appeared to me that the rats must have been pillaging an insectoid nest for food, when they were surprised by guards defending the nesting grounds.

The rat twitched under my touch, as its heartbeat became irregular. A last series of images flashed before me. The giant rat was fighting once again, but a strange red color tinges everything this time. I recognized the surroundings, the fight was taking place right where I stood… in these primordial catacombs… this very place… but there was more. In horror I observed that the rat was fighting its own humanoid brethren! Movement in the corner of my vision caught my attention and I was able to see her companions, fellow giant rats with fiercely glowing red eyes. Rats with saddles fastened on their backs, carrying the chitin monsters as they sliced the wooden pole arms of the humanoid rats with razor sharp claws. The humanoid rats were fighting back with a vengeance, but their expressions were unmistakable. They were horrified and stunned by the fact that they were facing their own kin in battle.

Insectoids fell dead from their saddled thrones in the slaughter, but driven by some emotionless impetus, the giant rats continued to fight their own brethren tooth and nail. With sharp claws they pulled the humanoid rats to the ground, then ripped their throats with blood-stained teeth. All the while, their brethren fought back vehemently, piercing their attackers’ lungs and stabbing them to death with daggers made from bones. The massacre ended when all humanoid rats lay dead, when most of the chitin monsters had ceased to breathe. The few who lived moved on, down the tunnel to nurse their wounds. Only this lone rat remained, dying…

When the last of its life ebbed from the rat’s body and its skull slowly grew cold under my touch, the enormity of what I had just witnessed jerked me back to my senses. The path that lies ahead of me had just become a whole lot more challenging, for now I know that there is not only the plague of the undead to deal with. The dark tunnels ahead of me hold promise of a violent conflict between two different races. A conflict I do not wish to be dragged into. But I realize that, in time, my hand will be forced and I will have to choose. But what choice will it be?