Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

Jason Dark Collection 1 coverJust out of the blue, I have decided to run a limited time promotion for the two Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collections over the weekend.

Usually, these collections are priced $6.99 on Amazon. They feature three Jason Dark stories each, along with the bonus short story “Food for the Dead,” which ran in Fangoria Magazine as a serialized short earlier this year.

Now Only $2.99Because I was in an experimental mood – I think my friend Scott Nicholson starts to have a bad influence on me – I decided from one moment to the other to simply reduce the price of the collection to $2.99 for the weekend.

To make a long story short, and to save you any more of my yapping, make sure to grab it while the price is still there.

Jason Dark Collection 2 coverAt $2.99 each of these three-story collection is the same price as each of the individual mysteries, so why are you still reading this and not already downloading your Kindle copy over on Amazon?

The Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection #1 features the stories “Demon’s Night,” “Theater of Vampires” and the award-winning “Ghosts Templar.”

The Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection #2 contains the mysteries “Heavens on Fire,” “Dr. Prometheus” and “From a Watery Grave.” How could you say “No” to this? Right, you can’t!

Also, while I have your ear, do me a favor, will you? Tell your friends about it. Tweet the info up or plaster it on your Facebook wall. You would make me a very happy camper.

Note: If you prefer ePUB versions, the books are also on sale currently at Barnes&Noble.

While I am still waiting for my editor Terry Coleman to complete his overview and comments on my latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” I spent some time over the past two weeks, trying to create a suitable cover for the book.

In the past I had always hired an artist to paint a cover for me, based on clearly-defined ideas and suggestions I had. Many times, I prepared a mock-up that I would send him and then let him paint what I had in mind. Very consciously, I always went for a classic look, as I tried to recreate the flair of old-school pulp fiction, dime novels and the wonderful horror movie posters of the 40s, 50s and 60s.

All of that served my desire to create a certain look for my books, but some time ago, the question came up again and again if, perhaps, this look has been holding back these books, dating them unnecessarily or putting them in a niche where few readers will pick them up. As a result I did major and minor overhauls of some of the covers over the past year or so.

To make a long story short, for “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” my idea was to go a slightly different route. I wanted to treat the book as a stand-alone and break with the old, just to see how things will work out. Therefore I decided not to have the cover painted this time, but instead try a different approach.

One was to open up the cover design to the public, essentially, and I created a contest some time ago, offering artists the chance to create a cover for the book and get it published. Sadly, the response was not what I expected and once the deadline was over, I knew I had to take matters in my own hands once again. I toiled away at ideas, but everything I came up with seemed old and stale — completely uninspired. And I knew it.

Eventually I turned over the work to my wife, Lieu, who is a graphic designer, and who regularly winces at the stuff I come up with. To her I am an amateur, stuck in a rut, and she’s probably right. She offered to help and I gladly accepted her offer.

It took Lieu no more than ten minutes to come up with a general design that I liked. Talk about a pro, there. Within a few hours we had set up a photo shoot to take the key imagery that she’d need for the cover and by the end of the day she had things neatly lined up.

All that was missing was the title lettering, and I often tend to think that is one of my fortes. (Oh, stop rolling your eyes, will you?)

Anyway, I gave it a shot and I spent a day creating tweaking and re-tweaking a lettering until I was pretty much satisfied with it. I say “pretty much” because I got to the point that my wife actually said, “Would you stop it? It is great the way it is. Stop messing with it.” Yes, I can get a little carried away, and if it were up to me, I’d probably still tinker with the logo.

The final version of the cover is still not complete. Lieu still has to properly assemble the various elements and balance it all to the point that it will be “perfect,” but I thought I’d give you guys a first peek at the lettering I created. Never mind the background. I included the swirl simply to get a general idea how it looks superimposed over some color, as opposed to having it sit on a black background.

Fu Man Chu’s Vampire Lettering

Doesn’t that have a totally gnarly graveyard look? Can’t you just feel the age oozing from it? It had a different texture first and at one point I started playing with the textures and blend-modes for them, when I hit this one. I started at it and immediately knew, This is it!

I don’t know how you respond to the lettering, but to me it has the look and feel of a crypt. I can practically hear stone scraping on stone as the lid slides away… yeah, like I said, I can get carried away sometimes, so never mind me, but feel free to let me know what you think of it.

Also, don’t forget that I am still running my promotion. If you buy “Curse of Kali”, you will get a free copy of “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” as soon as it is available. Exclusively, and ahead of anyone else. So, if you want to be among the first people to read my next book, make sure to read the full details of the promotion here.

I’ve been working my way through Amazon’s new KF8 format specs a little bit, and while it is a great format, taking the Kindle eBook format to where EPUB has been for some time, I have to say there are a few things that stick out like a sore thumb.

One of the issues that truly and really disturb me is the lack of support on anything but the Kindle Fire. Although Amazon had initially announced that the current generation Kindles and software readers would be KF8 capable, that statement was simply not true. It has since been revised that these devices will support KF8 some time in the future. In the real world that is a big difference.

It means that if you’re using KF8, you are currently limiting yourself to the Kindle Fire platform. While it is clearly a successful platform, it is nonetheless a niche.

The other thing that sorely disturbed me is the fact that Amazon is in no real way accommodating MOBI alongside KF8. By this I mean that Amazon is not willing to allow you to upload a KF8 version of a book and a MOBI version of the same book in order to enable proper support for all their Kindles. This problem extends not only into the publishing platform but actually starts at the root, the authoring of eBook.

Although with the new tools, Amazon has set up media queries, using an HTML @-rule, which allows you to define different styles for the KF8 and MOBI builds generated from your submission file, it is sadly a rather mediocre solution. It does help, however, in some cases. If you want text to flow around an image, a feature the KF8 format finally supports, you can tell it to use a different style setting for the MOBI version, in which you could center the image and then force a line-break and start the text on the next line. In theory, this would work. The problem seems to be that the old Kindles do not understand the display: block property that would be necessary to enforce the line break. Unless I find some way to tell the old Kindle that it needs to perform a line break after an image, this media-query fix is useless in this case.

The same is true with tables. Old Kindles have no table support. It’s been a major problem in the past, as it makes tabulating information impossible. If you display a KF8 table on an old Kindle it will be flattened, which means every table column will appear in a separate line. From a technical standpoint it makes sense because it is the easiest way to parse a table without actually implementing support. In practice it defeats its purpose, because it completely mangles and intermingles data that should, by rights, be separated — hence the use of a table.

Sadly the newfangled media queries won’t help in this case either, because the only real substitutes for tables on old Kindles are either completely restructured data, which requires different structural code and cannot be managed using a style, or you could replace the table with an image, which also requires code and cannot be achieved via a style setting. Ergo, the media query once again misses the mark.

Nonetheless, the media queries are great and will help on occasion to allow a certain degree of “correction” between versions. At least it’s a try…

In my opinion, however, Amazon should allow publishers to upload separate KF8 and MOBI versions in the future. It would be the only way to make sure that both versions can be authored to the best of the respective format’s capabilities and look as best as they can. Trying to automate the process – even with a media query hint has never been a good idea. The Smashwords Meat Grinder is the living proof that this Least Common Denominator approach is getting you nowhere but in trouble, and therefore I sincerely hope that Amazon will rethink their strategy in that respect, and while they’re at it, maybe they should look at their documentation also and rework the CSS selector listing they have in there, because as it stand, it would lead you to believe that old Kindles can’t handle any CSS, as every single selector is marked off as “unsupported.”

I wonder if they have actually corrected some of the issues I raised a while ago in the new platforms, such as incorrect em calculation, the right margin and padding issues, the missing borders, and so forth. Maybe some of you reader can enlighten me on that, since I have no Kindle Fire and none of the latest Kindles at my disposal.

Today I have a special offer for you, and hopefully I can entice you…

As you are certainly aware, I am currently putting the final touches to the latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery with the title Fu Man Chu’s Vampire. The book is currently with my editor for a final polish — at least I hope he’s not going to recommend a complete rewrite — and I have tentatively scheduled it for a late January release.

What you may also know, since I mentioned it on occasion, is that the previous Jason Dark book Curse of Kali actually foreshadowed the events of Fu Man Chu’s Vampire. To call it a prequel would be going too far, but the earlier book definitely leads up to the upcoming mystery with very overt references and a subplot.

Now, I know you may be sitting on hot coals, waiting for Fu Man Cu’s Vampire, so I thought, perhaps there is something I could do to make the wait a little more tolerable. That’s where my special offer comes in…

Kali CoverPurchase a copy of Curse of Kali anytime between now and the end of the month, and I will give you a free copy of Fu Man Chu’s Vampire as soon as it is released. In fact, I’ll do one better. You will get the book before anyone else!

So, not only do you get two books for the price of one, you will also be among the first to read the new one. Do I have your attention?

All you have to do is purchase a copy of Curse of Kali anywhere you can find it — on Amazon, at Barnes&Noble, at Kobo, in Apple’s iBookstore or on the Jason Dark website. Once you have that, simply forward the email with the order confirmation to and we will take care of the rest. Even if you purchased your copy a week or two ago, feel free to send in the receipt and I’ll put you down for a free copy of Fu Man Chu’s Vampire.

Are you ready, yet? Curse of Kali is only $2.99 and you could get your copy right now. Why wait?


Purchase on Amazon
Purchase at Barnes&Noble
Purchase at Kobo
But it in Apple’s iBookstore
Get your copy from the official Jason Dark website

You won’t regret it, and these books are perfect fodder for that new eBook reader you got for Christmas! :)

Dear Amazon,

Recently you sent me an email, telling me about your new Kindle Select Program. It was an email brimming with promise, but all too quickly did I see through your marketing ploy, I’m afraid.

You are truly asking me to give you my books on an exclusive basis for the privilege to forfeit potential sales so that you can lend them to your Prime customers? What’s in it for me?

Oh, yes, I recall, you mentioned something about $7,500 a month… no, that can’t be right. I don’t even make that in sales.

Because 500,000 divided by 7,500 makes 67, what you are so tastefully proposing would give exactly 67 authors the chance to make that kind of money. Will I be one of them? Will you make sure that I will be one of them? No, you will not. Of course, not. What am I thinking? You’ll throw me in the pot with everyone else, as usual. Just like you never took an interest in my success in the past, you will take none whatsoever in my doing in the future, so why should I support an effort that serves the sole purpose to grow your bottom line? Most of the time you don’t even respond to emails when they touch upon a subject you’re not comfortable with.

Even if you did not major in Math, the way I did, it is easy for anyone to tell that your math is broken – very broken.

To split $500,000 between all participating books may sound like a lot, but it is not. Here we are, six hours after you opened the doors to authors to enroll, you already have 15,000 books in your Lending Library. That means that each book will make an average of $33 per month. We both know what will happen in the next few days. The Lending Library will swell to over 100,000 titles and we will be looking at an average of $5 per book. That’s not a whole lot. In fact, it represents two real sales. Not quite the way to make a living.

What’s worse is that we have to take into account that bestselling books sell about 500-1000 times more than midlist titles, which means the potential revenue for the average book will be a few cents. Now, explain to me again, please, why I should be a part of this program? I am giving up potential sales, I am giving Amazon exclusivity for 90 days for the privilege to earn a few cents every month?

Sorry, Amazon, but Homey don’t play that.

To top it all off, I would have to explain to all my disgruntled readers why they can no longer get my books on other retail sites for their Nooks, their Kobos, their iPads. I wish they had all the sympathy in the world for my desire to fatten Amazon’s bottom line with my hard work, but let’s face it, in reality they will be upset with me. The result will be that I am actually losing readers in the long run over this. But it may affect you, too, because you know how people feel about corporate greed. I know, I know, it’s an overused buzzword, but it still works every time to get people up in arms.

You may not know this, but in the business world, if you want something exclusively, you usually have to sweeten the deal. A lot. Companies are typically receiving big fat checks up front to make their products available exclusively to a retailer. It is the way the free market world turns. I mean, after all, you expect me to give up stuff to make you look better. So let me ask you again. What’s in it for me? To become part of a convoluted Lending Library that decreases in value with every new book that is being enrolled?

You may think, all Kindle authors are amateurs and don’t know a scheme if only the verbiage is enticing enough, but I will tell you that I saw right through you. Your mentions of $500,000 and $7,500 figures are nothing but a carrot — ooooh big numbers. It has to be good.

I am sorry to disappoint, but I’m not a donkey. I can do math and I can see clear.

I can’t blame you for trying, of course, but I think you have been making a few serious mistakes lately that indicate to me that you have lost touch with your author base. Perhaps my friends were right. Perhaps you were luring all of us authors to your Kindle platform only so that at the right time you can strangle the life out of us in order to grow your own bottom line and to make your board of directors happy. I am not sure I would like that. I am not on your board of directors, but perhaps we can change that. With a little bit of goodwill on your end, that should be feasible, right?

Write back soon and let me know how things are going,
Guido Henkel


Addendum – 12/9/2011:
As of this morning, the Kindle Lending Library is over 35,000 titles thick. That means the average revenue for each book is now $18 and it keeps plummeting very quickly! Those were only the first 24 hours. I have no doubt that after the weekend we will be looking at 100,00 titles in the Library — all of them devalued, all of them no longer available to Nook, Kobo and iBookstore readers. How can that possibly be good business?

Oh yes, there is the lure of “Free” – you can make your book free for a few days and it will undoubtedly result in millions of downloads, catapulting your name in the ranks of a Dean Koontz, Lisa Jackson or Stephen King. I think people should watch “The Incredibles” a little more, because there’s a lesson to be learned. In the film the superheroes fight a villain who plans to give superpowers to ever man, woman and child in the world, but here’s the crux of the matter, as Syndrome, the villain himself states – “Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… no one will be.”
To put it in plain Kindle language, if everyone is offering their book for free, it is once again disappearing in the glut and no longer special. Already, this morning there were a whopping 2400 new free books on Amazon. Do you really believe these will all see the phenomenal download numbers of the past? Think again. There is no gain in this.

As I am revising the latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery, Fu Man Chu’s Vampire, my mind was wandering. I thought about possible covers for the book, and then I had an interesting idea. What, if I let fans design the cover?

Here’s the deal. It works like a competition, in essence. You can get your cover on Fu Man Chu’s Vampire! All you have to do, is create a cover artwork for the book and send it over for evaluation. If my wife and I like it, we will use it for the eBook and print versions of the book, and you will receive full credit, naturally. If you’re an artist, this will be a nice opportunity to add to your portfolio, to have a valuable publication credit. I’ll also throw in some goodies on top of it, such as a box of DVDs or so.

Most importantly, however, you will have the ultimate bragging rights!

So, what is the story about? I can’t tell you a whole lot about it, really ,because I do not want to give away the story as such, here in public. You may want to read the opening chapters of the last Jason Dark mystery, Curse of Kali, however – you can find it online here – as it gives you an impression as to where the story goes.

In a nutshell, you can say that evil Doctor Fu Man Chu is putting a Jiang Shi, a hopping vampire, on the trail of Jason Dark and Siu Lin, in an attempt to have them killed.

In technical terms, I don’t want to impose all to many guidelines. Needless to say, it should fit in with the series as a whole. I am posting some of the covers from the previous books below, so you can get a feel for the direction we’ve been taking in the past. Alternatively, please visit the Jason Dark website for a closer look of the respective covers.

However… if you feel you have the ultimate idea, even if it does not fit into the current style of the series, we’d love to see it. The reason is simple. With eBooks in particular, it is easily possible to “play” with covers. To try different approaches and see which cover works best. I know people who have been able to increase their sales tenfold by simply changing the cover of their eBook. With that in mind, I believe, it is important for me to point out that while I have a preference for the current style, I’m not entirely in love with it, either. If someone tosses me a cover that knocks my socks off, I’ll take it, even if is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The only real guideline that I do have is this. The final cover needs to be at least 8.5”x11” at 300 dpi in size. For the purists among you, that would be 2550×3300 pixels. We have this size requirement in place to make sure we can use the artwork for marketing and sales materials.
If you send your cover for evaluation, you can send it in smaller, of course, so that it easily fits into an email, but I want to make sure everyone understands, that the final version will have to be super-sized.

So, get creative! Pull out your pens, markers, canvasses or Wacom tablets and get cracking, already. Email scribbles, sketches, drawings, paintings, layouts, anything you want us to take a look at to contest@guidohenkel.com. You have until Sunday, December 18 to completely blow my mind! I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with.

Things are moving along, as I reported in last week’s post, and I am proud to report that at this time, the Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection 1 has been released.

Currently available on Amazon and Barnes&Noble, the book should be available on Kobo any day now also. For the time being, this collection will be available only as eBook. I will make a print version available if I feel there is demand for it, but at this time I am happy to release the collection for eBook readers exclusively.

Jason Dark Collection 1 cover

As I announced recently, the release features the first three of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries, namely, Demon’s Night, Theater of Vampires and Ghosts Templar in one book.

As an added bonus, the book also contains the short story Food for the Dead that appeared in Fangoria magazine as a five-part serialized story earlier this year.

Available now for only $6.99 this collection gives readers the chance to safe big money over the individual releases while also getting the short story a a bonus that is not available anywhere else.

Work is also progressing on Fu Man Chu’s Vampire. The first draft is finished and I am currently in the revision stages. I will take a few passes at the story to make sure it feels round and reads well before handing it off to my editor for the last polish. Look forward to seeing it to be released in a short few weeks, hopefully.

I am also ramping up work on a new project. Can’t tell you much about it yet, other than that it excites me quite a bit right now. I will unveil more details as I get deeper into the actual “creation” of it.

It seems I have neglected posting here on my blog for a little bit, but let me assure you that it was simply due to so many exciting things going on here on my end. So, perhaps, I should tell you a little about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard that the city of Baltimore had cut their financial support for the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, one of the city’s historic landmarks. I assign quite a bit of significance to this museum, as it is dedicated to perhaps the most important American horror writer. So when I heard that Literary Landmark Press is putting together an anthology of Poe-inspired short stories to benefit the Poe House, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I wrote a short story with the title The Blackwood Murders and submitted it to the editors. To my delight I was notified shortly thereafter that my story would, in fact, be included in the anthology The Spirit of Poe, which will be released shortly.

I felt both honored and flattered at the same time. Honored to become associated with something relating directly to Edgar Allan Poe, helping to protect his legacy by no small means. Flattered, because the editors of the anthology actually found my piece worthy enough to be included alongside many other accomplished writers.

I had a blast writing “The Blackwood Murders,” and during the entire time, I saw it play in front of my eyes like an old Roger Corman movie with Vincent Price. That should give you an idea what to expect from the story, and I hope many of you will show your support of the Poe House by purchasing a copy of the book. If you do, please DO let me know how you liked my entry. I’m a sucker for flattery. :)

Once I had that short story finished, I decided that it was time for me to put together a collection of Jason Dark mysteries to sell together as one book. After some soul searching and talking to friends, I have decided to release collections featuring three stories in one book. The first one, which will be available shortly, will therefore feature Demon’s Night, Theater of Vampires and Ghosts Templar in a single volume. In addition, as a bonus, I have decided to include the Jason Dark short story Food for the Dead in the collection. As you may recall, this story was a Fangoria exclusive and ran in five serialized installments in the magazine earlier this year. This collection will mark the first time this story will be available in one piece.

My wife and I are currently finalizing the cover for the release, but expect to hear more about it shortly. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with all the cool developments.

And then, just before Halloween, I had a great idea for a new Jason Dark story. Those of you who read “Curse of Kali,” the latest Jason Dark mystery, may recall that I seriously foreshadowed a story called Fu Man Chu’s Vampire in that book. Well, I had finally had the igniting idea where to go with the story.

Funny enough, at the same time, “National Novel Writing Month” – aka NaNoWriMo – kicked off and there was this huge frenzy of writers around the country starting up new projects. While I do not participate in NaNoWriMo, I decided it was a good occasion to kick off “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” in earnest, and perhaps against my better judgment.

So, on November 1st I outlined and began writing this exciting new Jason Dark supernatural mystery with the intention to fulfill the NaNoWriMo required 1,600 words a day. I knew it would be hard for me to keep that pace with all the other stuff going on in my life, but I was very determined to give it a good and honest try.

Well, here we are, 12 days later and I am very proud to report that I have not only fulfilled my daily word counts, but exceeded them significantly on most days. As a result, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” is rapidly heading for its completion. As I am writing this, I am just about to tackle the book’s final scene, which means, the first draft should be complete later today!

I will then set it aside for a few days to work on the cover for it, before beginning the edits and revisions. Although I had planned not to write an Jason Dark stories in the near future, I am very happy I did. This is the fastest I have ever written any of these supernatural mysteries, and it could mean that, perhaps I will actually be able to release it around Christmas time, or at the very least, first thing in the new year. Either way, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more info on this and other developments. It just so happens that I had another interesting idea for a project that I might pursue in the near future…

Yesterday, Amazon released information that with the introduction of the Kindle Fire tablet they will also switch to a new eBook format. Anyone who will check out the quick overview will certainly be pleased and also notice that with the upcoming KF8 eBook format, Amazon seems to have addressed virtually all the shortcomings I have raised in my blog post 10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle that I posted a while ago.

And yet, I am not happy. Why is that?

One would think with these issues out of the way, the Kindle should finally catapult itself to the top of the eBook capabilities, right? Well, yes and no. The problem lies in the details, the fineprint, so to speak. The big problem with the introduction of the KF8 format is that Amazon is doing a pretty hack job with this, I am very sorry to say, because, according to Amazon’s announcement and FAQ, none of the older Kindles will be able to support this format.

Why is this a problem? Well, as a professional eBook formatter, the question for me is, how am I supposed to deal with this? Instead of creating the foundation for one rock solid Kindle platform that has powerful capabilities, Amazon is now going down the road of platform fragmentation. Already we had issues that the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 had capabilities the Kindle 1 did not possess. It was a big problem because things such as tables were unusable, despite the fact that the capabilities were built into the K2 and K3. Since authors have to make sure they cover the largest possible market share, however, using tables made no sense, as the Kindle 1 did not support them and rendered them in a useless, garbled fashion.

With KF8, things will get even uglier. We now have three different sets of capabilities. The Kindle 1 at the bottom end, the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3, and then the new Kindle 4 and Kindle Fire. This is not a smart move on Amazon’s behalf and reeks of either laziness or engineering ineptitude.

From a programming standpoint none of the features introduced in KF8 are in any way supercharged capabilities that require special hardware. Let’s face it. eBook reader software is, in effect, nothing more than a specialized web browser. It is not rocket science! Therefore, Amazon’s decision is hard to comprehend. Web browser implementations have been written a thousand times — I wrote one myself 10 years ago for use in a computer game. There are reference implementations out there that they could have used for free, all things that should have made it possible to retain a unified platform. So, why could’t the software engineers at Amazon make sure they introduce these capabilities in all devices through firmware upgrades?

It is a very short-sighted decision in my opinion, that not only shortchanges the end users, but causes a lot of problems on Amazon’s end as well.

They will now have to begin offering and delivering different versions of the same books – one formatted according to the old, outdated MOBI file specifications, and another one formatted according to the new KF8 guidelines for this to make any sense. How does that make sense?

So, not only will they now have to deal with publishers having to create and upload multiple versions of the same book. This comes at an additional expenses to authors and publishers, as they have maintain two versions of the book. But it also comes at the expense of Amazon, as they have to modify their existing pipeline to accommodate these multiple versions.

To make matters worse, they will have to educate people which format to use for which device, and they will have to prepare – and possibly ramp up support staff, to answer all the customer questions stemming from this sort of confusion.

As I said, I do not think this was a very smart move and it is not in Amazon’s best interest.

Writing and updating the firmware for all existing Kindle platforms would have been a clean way into the future, without all the hassle that comes with platform fragmentation. I know what I am talking about – I’ve been programming for 30 years and I’ve been working in the mobile field for many years, where device fragmentation has gone rampant and costs publishers and cell phone carriers hundreds of millions of dollars every month just to support the insanity.

I know, that for me, KF8 is a step backwards, no matter how attractive it looks at first glance. For the most part it is useless out of the gate because if it doesn’t work on all Kindle devices, it has no value to me and I suspect most of my clients.


Addendum:

An important point was raised in the comments to this post that deserves a few additional words, I think.

Amazon promises that KindleGen 2, the tool they provide to allow authoring KF8 files “will convert your content so that it works on all Kindle devices and apps.”

If you think, this means that all problems are solved with this, you can smoke that notion in a pipe. There is a big difference between could and should.

Just because KindleGen 2 promises to convert your books, doesn’t mean you should, because the output quality will be dubious at best. Of course, if you are part of the I-don’t-care-just-make-it-easy, Smashwords-adoring crowd, yes, that might work for you, but if you take pride in your ebook’s layout and formatting, this is not going to fly.

Let me illustrate this with a very simple example. Say, you have an image and you add the float property to it, to have it embedded in your text with the words flowing nicely around it.

When converting such a file, all KindleGen can really do is ignore the float property — which, coincidentally, all the devices do already. As result, on a Kindle 2 you will now have the image sitting on the left side of the screen with nothing surrounding it. Perhaps the first line of the text that was supposed to float around it will sit firmly at the bottom, creating a huge, ugly gap. Surely not what you had in mind.

If you had properly formatted a version for MOBI devices, instead, you would perhaps have centered the image in this case and spaced it out a little more. That is where KindleGen’s auto-conversion will fail you miserably, because it cannot make decisions like that for you. Things will, undoubtedly get even nastier when your formatting is more complex than this one very basic example, and I would not be surprised if certain elements would even disappear entirely.

Let’s face it, there are certain things the old devices simply can’t do if Amazon refuses to upgrade their firmware across the entire line of products. Just having some devices that support it and others that don’t is hackneyed at best.

As a publisher you will have to look at the lowest common denominator for your product, and that is the long-abandoned Kindle 1, that has seen little love from Amazon in recent years.

Sure, this is not a big problem if you have a novel without graphics or a special page layout. Fair enough, in that case you are really not affected by these changes at all. You will continue to build MOBI files exactly the way you did and ignore the new capabilities, because MOBI offers exactly the kind of functionality you need. Nothing wrong with that.

When books become a little more complex, that is when the problems begin and they will very quickly become exacerbated.

The bottom line — and the main point of my post — is that the way Amazon is approaching this is creating tiers of devices, each tier with different implementational limitations. And that, my friends, is a very real problem.

I am a huge fan of the Kindle. Always been. I owned a first-generation Kindle and in my mind, the Kindle was every bit as revolutionary a product as the iPhone. A game changer.

However, as great as it is, even the Kindle is not perfect. I am not talking here about buttons being too small or somesuch thing. I am talking about the software implementation in the device.

Over the past two years I have formatted hundreds of e-books, as I’m sure you know. I have formatted books for NYT best-selling authors, for publishing houses, midlist authors and indies alike, and I have been able to study many of the idiosyncrasies of the ebook readers in the market close up.

The Kindle has a number of firmware bugs that have unfortunately not been corrected in its three-year lifespan or its three platform generations. At first I was always willing to admit that it was easy to forget that Amazon is simply not a software company but a retailer. So the experience pool is simply not there and mistakes happen.

As the competition mounts we can no longer be so forgiving, I suppose. Apple shows everyone how it is done with an ePub implementation on their iBooks platforms that not only lives up to spec for the most part, but extends it with significant improvements. Apple may drop the ball entirely on the store side of iBooks, but that’s a different story for another blog post.

I think, however, that Amazon can no longer afford to let things like these firmware bugs slide and should take steps to address them properly. Not only in the current or upcoming platform generations, but backwards also, to make sure all Kindle users enjoy the proper, highest quality e-book experience they are looking for.

Here is my list of 10 Things that Amazon should correct in the Kindle.

  1. Let’s start with a simple one. Image transparency. The Kindle supports PNG images but not the format’s transparency settings. Instead it renders the background white. This would be a simple software fix to correct the issue and could be done in a few minutes. In fact, it is surprising that this bug exists at all because PNG transparency is one of the image format’s most basic features.

    Transparency error
    Notice how the background of the image is white against the sepia paper color, while it should be transparent.
    Click on the image for a larger view
  2. Em-spacing. As a book formatter em-spacing is the key to all good formatting, because it allows for proportional scaling of the content, which is key for applications in which text is free flowing – such as e-books.
Currently the Kindle miscalculates the size of em entirely, making it about 4 times larger than it should be. Proper formatting using em-spacing is therefore problematic on the Kindle and I am sure everyone agrees that spacing in pixels is unacceptable in a world where display sizes range from the tiniest cell phone to the largest tables and desktop screens.
  3. Margins are also a sore topic on the Kindle. Not only are margins calculated incorrectly as a result of the em-spacing error mentioned above, the Kindle completely ignores all margin-right settings. To make matters worse it ignores all padding-right information also. As a result it is impossible to space text properly in various occasions.
  4. Border properties are also ignored in many cases. Depending on your Kindle generation or software you may or may not see borders that have been created using the border style attributes in the e-book.
  5. One of the biggest issues, perhaps, is text justification. The Kindle does not properly justify text. Every few lines or so it will suddenly create a ragged line, throwing off the formatting. This is clearly a software bug that should have been addressed long ago but for some reason it hasn’t been addressed even though it is at the heart of the most basic function of the Kindle, the actual flow of text paragraphs.

    Justification error
    Notice how the lines in the top paragraph are ragged when, in fact, they should be fully justified.
    Click on the image for a larger view

  6. Going along with this issue is the lack of hyphenation. While the Kindle software reader software support hyphenation, the Kindle devices do not. Now, I can understand that perhaps the dictionaries necessary to do proper hyphenation may be too large to fit on a Kindle or may be too processing intensive – though I honestly doubt it, giving modern software technologies – the fact that the Kindle does not even support HTML’s soft-hyphenation is really a disappointment. Hyphenation is integral part of text flowing and I am not sure why it has been so overlooked for all this time.
  7. Early generations of the Kindle also do not support tables. When at first the Kindle arrived and was used for novels mostly, this was perfectly fine, but as the acceptance of e-book readers grows, so does the diversity of the books, and, let’s face it, text and reference books need tables. There is always a need to be able to tabulate content, something the Kindle makes impossible. While the current Kindle generation supports tables, it is a feature that cannot be used because legacy readers do not. This feature should be introduced to the Kindle 1 retroactively with a firmware upgrade also to ensure uniformity across all generations.
  8. Another point of contention is object floating. The float property is not part of the mobi e-book specifications, but let’s face it, these specs are older than your last computer. Amazon has bought the company that developed the mobi e-book file format but sadly the development and extension of the format has completely seized, making the Kindle the only e-book reader with a completely outdated e-book format. Before you tell me that Amazon also allows ePub submissions at this point, let me remind you that Amazon converts these ePub files into mobi files before delivering them to users, stripping the e-books of all ePub specific features.
The float properties would allow text to float around images, giving us not only the opportunity to insert images into the text, but they would also make graphical drop caps a possibility at last.
  9. What is also missing from the Kindle is a way to properly deep link to other books in the Kindle store. Sure you can use a link to Amazon’s website and insert it into your e-books, but did you ever look what happens? The Kindle tries to display the Amazon website on its screen, rendering it garbled and virtually unreadable. Why not give Kindle authors the chance to link to page that has been optimized for the Kindle like the one the Kindle pulls up when you search and purchase a book directly on the device.
I cannot tell you how many emails I have exchanged with Amazon on this subject but for some reason the support staff does neither seem to understand the issue, nor care much about it. I was continually referred to use either regular Amazon web links or some XML links that the Kindle could not even interpret properly.
Since upselling more books would be in Amazon’s interest every bit as much as in the authors’, I am flabbergasted at Amazon’s disinterest in providing such a specialized deep link.

    Store page
    This is what a deep link to the Amazon store looks like on the device. Not very useful, is it? Most of it is not at all readable.
    Click on the image for a larger view
  10. Last, but not least, Amazon should spend some time to make sure the software versions of their readers are actually representative of the devices. They do have the best software readers out there — don’t get me started on the Nook software reader that can’t even center text and will crash in 9 out of 10 times — but the way a book looks in the reader is not representative of the device at all? Why is that? Just use the same fonts, the same firmware routines and things should look identical. It is called code portability and I’ve done it for 10 years on cell phone games, making games look the same on hundreds of different phones.

As you can see, these are some basic flaws and it is surprising that they have been sliding by for so long. The things in question are not tied to hardware issues at all. They are all simple software bugs that can be addressed without too much of a hassle. It is really not rocket science. All it requires is a little discipline.

If you agree with me, maybe you would join me in telling Amazon about these issues and reminding them that in order to remain the market leader, they will have to make sure they continue to deliver a superior experience.

Send them an email at kdp-support@amazon.com. Send them a link to this bog post or pick your favorite flaw and ask if they could please fix it. Maybe together we can direct Amazon’s attention towards these software errors that truly deserve to be fixed.