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.

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Here’s what I’ve been doing lately

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…

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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.

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What’s in a face?

Before I dive into today’s post, I wanted to remind everyone of the great give-away I am running right now. What do you mean you don’t remember? You have not been afflicted by Astaroth’s demon curse of forgetfulness, have you?

Well, fret no more, simply click on this link and visit the promotion and give-away post where I outlined all the details. More incentive, you need? You are one tough customer, my friend, I tell you that. But if it is incentives you need, look no further. How does a 1-year subscription to Fangoria sound, or an ultra-rare, highly collectable “Book of the Dead” DVD version of the horror cult classics “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead 2?” Or, perhaps, a $25 Amazon gift card would be more to your liking, or movies, or books, or t-shirts… I think we understand each other now, don’t we? All you have to do is spread some Jason Dark love for me!

Now, on to other things… One of the key ingredients of Halloween are costumes, of course, and I thought I’d make a little post about some of my past disguises. No, I’m not referring to Halloween costumes, but to some cameos I made on the covers of products. Yes, I know, it is hard to believe, but I am a model.

Most recently, my visage appeared on the book cover of Gord Rollo’s and Gene O’Neill’s anthology of urban horror stories, “Mean Streets.” Don’t believe me, well, let’s take a closer look.

Mean Streets cover

I know, I know, it’s all bit dark and shady, but if you look closely — and ignore the silvery eyes — this is really me. My wife, Lieu, designed the cover for the book and we had trouble locating a properly sinister urban gangster. Since we’re not real fans of stock photos either, she asked me to put on a hoodie and pose for her. And that’s what I did. Some light from underneath and a good deal of Photoshop massaging turned the photo into what you see on the final cover.

I had a cover stunt before, back in the year 1999 or so when we were finalizing a computer game called “Planescape: Torment” that I was producing for Interplay at the time. An ad agency had a cover design laid out and we had booked a male model for the cover shoot. About a day before the shoot, news came in that the model had a scheduling conflict and would not make it. While we were sitting around the office and wondered what to do, someone looked at me and said, “Maybe you should be the model.” I thought it was joke at first but everyone in the room looked at me and went, “Yeah, why don’t you?”

Planescape: Torment cover

Well, who am I to say no? So, the next day I went to the photo shoot. The really cool part about it is that we needed a monster-like look on the cover, as the character to be portrayed was undead. The agency had hired Hollywood special effects guru Tom Burman for the job, so I went to his workshop in Burbank. It was bit surreal, to walk into his studio and seeing all the work he had done on all sorts of movies, going way back to the original “Planet of the Apes” movies.

Guido Henkel

The next few hours were a completely new experience for me. Tom applied prosthetic make-up to my face – a process that took about two hours if memory serves me right. Applying layers and strip of latex to my face he slowly transformed me into a demonic-looking creature. Then, to top it off, he hand-painted the entire make-up to give it a realistic look that would hold up under the glaring light of a camera.

The photographer then took a series of shots of my face, trying to capture what we needed for the cover layout and about 45 minutes later it was time to take it all off again.

Guido Henkel

Just on a fun side note, my face was red as a beet and burned for the rest of the day, because of the solvent that was used to remove the appliances. Nonetheless, it was all well worth it, and as you can see in the pictures, it was a lot of fun. A once-in-a-liftetime experience, really, and an incredible honor to meet Tom Burman and actually have him work on me.

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Where did all the horror go?

As many of you may know, I am a huge fan of movies, and in recent years I have become absolutely enamored with the Blu-Ray format — as everyone should, in my humble opinion.

As Halloween is once again racing towards us, I could not help but notice, however, the dearth of releases these days. Sure, DVD is flooded with cheap indie releases and re-releases of titles ad nauseam, but on Blu-Ray, the studios are still holding back their catalog quite severely. It appears as if barely any catalog titles are being transferred onto the high definition format and all we really get are the movies coming off their box office run or new straight-to-home video releases.

Like most people, around the Halloween time frame I love to watch a few good horror movies and as I look through the release schedules, the only horror I find is the shocking realization that nothing is coming…


I mean, seriously, if it weren’t for Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-Ray version of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie a few days before Halloween and Lionsgate’s recent release of the Peter Jackson horror comedy Dead Alive, there is not a single horror movie in sight that is in any way intriguing or exciting.

Every year, Universal Home Entertainment refurbishes their entire horror line-up, and this year is no exception. The list of films the studio runs in promotions throughout October is almost endless – 69 titles, to be exact! Out of all these films, however, springs not a single new Blu-Ray release. Movies that are available already are re-promoted but none of the other films are making a Blu-Ray debut.

To me, as a fan of classic horror, this is painful to watch. Why don’t we get high definition versions of the monster classics like “Dracula,” Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Mummy” and their many sequels that are once again being offered up on DVD?

Why is Halloween not an occasion to bring to the world a high definition version of Wes Craven’s hauntingly staggering “Serpent and the Rainbow” or John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness,” “They Live” and “Village of the Damned,” all of which are part of a new “John Carpenter: Master of Fear” DVD collection that just hit stores?

But Universal is not the only studio sitting on their hands. MGM Home Entertainment, for example, has yet to release John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and not to mention that they have absolutely no plans to release Roger Corman’s classic Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price in high definition.

And why Anchor Bay is not giving us any of the Hammer movies, is anyone’s guess.

It is a trend that worries me. When DVD was first launched, the studios went into complete overkill, releasing even the most mundane niche films as Special Editions with tons of extras. Now, at a time when home video is really offering theater-quality presentations, they are short-shrifting fans, by holding back way too many films. I can understand that they don’t want to go into a feeding frenzy the way they did during the DVD heydays, but leaving the entire catalog to rot in their vaults?

It kind of reminds me of the early days of DVD when the world was clamoring for George Lucas to release “Star Wars” on DVD or for Steven Spielberg to finally come to his senses and embrace the digital age — remember that? Guess what? Those guys jumped into high definition with both feet, and now the studios as a collective are slacking off.

It’s a crazy, crazy world, I tell you, and it makes me sad to see that yet another Halloween rolls around without any exciting horror releases. Dear studios, I refuse to watch kiddie-style horror remakes created by people who obviously never understood the appeal of the original movies in the first place. Like many fans of horror, I would honestly appreciate any kind of effort you would make to bring some of the film we love to Blu-Ray.

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Great Halloween Promotion and Give-Away

Halloween is coming our way faster than Dr. Prometheus’ muttered curse, and as we all know, Halloween is the time of all things ghoulish. I love Halloween and for that reason I have decided it is time to celebrate a little. I have prepared some exciting cool announcements for you.

Let us start with the first one, and perhaps the most important one.

Starting today and lasting until October 31, the night of All Hallow’s Eve, I am reducing the price of all e-book versions of the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries. You can now own any of the adventures for a new, ghoulishly low

$1.99!

I thought you would like that, but wait, don’t run off just yet, to purchase these action packed adventures. There is more you should know…

The Blood Witch just came over last night and gave me another stupendous idea. How about preparing a cool give-away where fans can win awesome prices? Cars, houses, vacations, the whole shebang! Easy for her to say, I know. But the more I thought about it the more I thought there was seed of a good idea in there that I should give a shot.

Therefore I am doing a nightmarish give-away. You can win some gorific movies, books and merchandise. I have for example five DVD copies of the Hammer Horror movie “Let Me In” here, that I will be giving away. In addition, one lucky winner will not only get that movie, but also a rare out-of-print version of Anchor Bay’s “Book of the Dead” edition of “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II.” In case you are not familiar with this, this was a release that featured a molded DVD covering made from Latex, looking like the Necronomicon in the movies. This release was a limited edition to begin with and has been out of print for years. Subsequently it has since turned into a highly sought-after collectible. Why am I giving it away then? Simple. I love my fans!

But there is more. I am also giving away a number of heavy duty Jason Dark mousepads along with Jason Dark t-shirts. And since we’re all haunted bookworms here, I am also throwing in some books, such as the incredible – and I mean incredible – “Romancing the Vampire” by David J. Skal, “Mean Streets” by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill and some others. For a complete list of prices, please see below, but either way, I promise I will make it worth your while. 🙂

So, are you game? I am sure that by now you are wondering how you could get your paws on these hot prices. Let me explain how this will work…

I want you to “Share” my books and tell the world about it. Simple as that. So, go to my books on Amazon and for every book in the list, click the “Like” button found on the product page. Next, a small pop-up box will appear and there, click on the “F” symbol to share your love with your Facebook friends so that they can see it, or click on the Twitter icon to share the love with your Tweeps. A share takes no more than two mouse-clicks — not a whole lot, considering what you could win in the bargain. Count how many of the books you shared this way.

Next, go to the list of my books on Barnes&Noble’s website. On the product page for each book, click on the “F” to share the love with your Facebook friends and also click on the “+1” symbol to share it with your Google+ circles. Again, two mouse-clicks are all that required. Once again, count how may of the books you shared this way.

The next step is simple. You simply send an email to contest@guidohenkel.com and put “Shared: xxx” in the subject line. “xxx” would, naturally, stand for the number of your total shares.

As you can see, this is really simple and no purchase is necessary. You can share my books even if you’ve never even read one. In fact, I would love for you to share information about the books anyway, because even if they are not your bag, maybe some of your friends like Victorian era supernatural mysteries.

At the end of the give-away, on October 22, I will then randomly draw winners from the shares and get their head-chopping prices to them. So, with any luck you might find some of these goodies in your mailbox before Halloween.

There is no limit how many times you can submit shares. You can send them in one at a time or wait until the end and send in the grand total, it is your choice. Your odds of winning will be the same. What is important, however, is that every time you share a book this way with your peeps, tweeps and friends, it will increase your odds of winning. The more, the merrier, as they say.

So, how’s that for a Halloween treat for you? Now, what are you waiting for? I want to see some Facebook shares show up on people’s walls and some shares filtering in my Twitter feed. Let’s make some noise. Let’s tell the world about Jason Dark and his awesome supernatural adventures in Victorian England!

Prices:

Grand Prize:

  • “Book of the Dead” Edition DVD of “Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II”
  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVD
  • “Escape From Vampire Island” Blu-Ray/DVD combo
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • $25 Amazon gift card
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

2nd Prize

  • 1-year subscription to “Fangoria” magazine, America’s leading horror magazine, courtesy of Fangoria
  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVD
  • “Scream 4” Blu-Ray/DVD combo
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

3rd Prize

  • “Romancing the Vampire” hardcover by David J. Skal
  • “The Ruins” paperback by Scott Smith
  • “Mean Streets” paperback by Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt

4th – 6th Prize

  • “Let Me In” Hammer Horror DVDs
  • Jason Dark mouse pad
  • Jason Dark t-shirt
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A case of hummingbirds

For the past few days, my wife and I spent a lot of time photographing hummingbirds around the house. These beautiful, little birds can be mesmerizing and it is often surprising to watch just how inquisitive they are. Some of them are truly quite fearless.

Hummingbird

Since we’re using camera flashes in order to properly highlight the birds against the background, it was very interesting to see that some of the birds were actually attracted by the flash. More than one of them flew straight for the camera to take a closer look what that thing is and where the light comes from.

These birds are also very territorial. You can notice that one bird often “owns” a feeder and whenever another hummingbird tries to approach it, the owner will bully the new arrival away with loud chirps and chatter, as well as physical violence if need be, chasing the intruder away.

Hummingbird

At one point my wife decided that we should try to photograph the birds from a different angle, and, perhaps, a little more exposed to the natural sunlight so that the flash would not flatten out the colors too much. We lowered the feeder about 15 inches, set up the camera and waited with remote release in hand.

Interestingly, the birds first flew to the exact spot where the feeder used to hang. Seemingly perplexed that it was no longer there, you could see them hover around for a moment before noticing that it was simply hanging a little lower. I found this very surprising.

As humans, we would take in the bigger picture from a distance, see the feeder and directly home in on it, regardless of its change of position. Not so these birds. Obviously they are a lot more hard-wired. They seem to remember locations in a more dimensional space, it would suggest, as if driven by an internal GPS. Sight seems to come only second to that.

Hummingbird

I found this behavior incredibly interesting, though if you’re asking me why I am telling you all of this, I can understand that, too. As I was thinking about the birds’ behavior some more, I realized that I could actually use this in a book at some point. No, I am not planning to pit my Victorian era occult detective Jason Dark against a hummingbird from hell, but this behavioral pattern could be used to solve a mystery. If, for example, the crime scene were moved and the perpetrator were lured to it, showing up at the wrong place would clearly be an admission of guilt. I mean, that’s what Columbo would have done, right? And he always got his man.

HummingbirdIt’s a pretty good idea, I think, thank you very much. But don’t send me fan mail just yet, I still have to create a plot around it and write the story.

On the subject of hummingbirds, you may also be interested that my wife released a children’s picture book a little while ago, called Growing up Hummingbird, which shows the first two weeks in a hummingbirds life, as experienced and photographed by her early this spring in our backyard.

You can get a copy of the book at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo and in the Apple iBookstore.

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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.

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Only now I realized that, despite posting about the preparations for the launch, I have never actually informed you that my middle-grade chapter book “Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth’s Treasure” has actually been released.

Kitt Pirate cover
As I mentioned before, I have settled on the pen name Ben Oliver for this release, to create a bit of separation between the horror books I’ve been writing before, and this children’s book. It seems the sensible thing to do to me, although it does create a lot more work and can cause a bit of confusion here and there. Who am I today? Guido Henkel or Ben Oliver?

For those of you with kids somewhere between 7 and 10 years, you may want t to give the book a closer look. It is available as an e-book for $2.99 in all major distribution outlets, and it is also available as a paperback for only $5.99 on Amazon and Barnes&Noble. So, whichever format suits you best, feel free to support my efforts and my work and grab a copy for yourself. It is — I think — a fun adventure read with a great main character and it features a couple of cool pencil illustrations by my friend Juan F. Garcia, who also created the cover.

Here are some quick access links for you to find the book.

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Barnes&Noble Paperback
Apple iBookstore

And, while we’re on the subject of children’s books, I also want to let you know about two other e-books that have originated in our household. My wife has released two picture books for toddlers. Although available as e-books only, they have been designed specifically for larger display e-book readers, such as tablets and laptop computers.

Hummingbird cover
The first book is “Growing up Hummingbird,” a wonderful look at the first two weeks in the life of a hummingbird. From the moment the eggs were laid to the day the little birds were fledging and leaving the nest for good, my wife has captured the key moments with her camera and put them together in a kid-friendly picture book for toddlers to experience.

Amazon Kindle
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Apple iBookstore
Kobo

Beach cover
Down the same lines, she released “At the Beach,” a collection of photos from the beach. Colorful and complemented by simple first words, the book will easily grab a toddler’s attention and keep him or her occupied or quite a while.

Amazon Kindle
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Apple iBookstore

Both books are available for only 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple iBookstore and Kobo. Feel free to grab copies and see if your toddler enjoys these colorful picture books.

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The Table of Contents in the digital age

Oftentimes when I send out a finished e-book to a client after I completed the formatting for them, I get an email that asks me, “Why is the Table of Contents in the back?”

The more I thought about it, the more I felt it is something I should probably talk about here on my blog, because there are a number of reasons why placing the Table of Contents — or TOC — at the end of an e-book makes a lot of sense.

Traditionally, in print books that is, the TOC served for readers to orient themselves within a book. You would simply crack the book open, go to the TOC, look for the chapter of interest and then go from there until you got to the chapter you were looking for. We all know where to find a TOC in a print book — in the front — and through years of practice we have learned to use our eye to estimate a position of a certain page number within the whole of a book.

In an e-book things look a little different, however, because if the TOC is in the front, and you are currently reading on page 560, you will have to do a lot of paging to do in order to get to that Table of Contents. Hundreds of button presses are in order… That doesn’t sound cool, does it? No, instead e-book readers have a button that takes you to the TOC, so that a simple button press takes you to a menu from which you have direct access to the table of contents. From anywhere in the book. And you won’t even lose your current reading position.

Hold on a minute, doesn’t that mean…? Yes, it does. The word menu means that the TOC does no longer have to be in the front of the book, because no matter where it is, the e-book reader always finds it for us and displays it in its Contents menu. In fact, it does not have to be part of the actual book text itself at all anymore.

Yeah, but you’re traditional-minded, right? Like, you never thought you’d be using a digital thingie-ma-whatsit to read books on anyway, because you like the feel of a bound book. And because you are a traditionalist, you want your TOC in the front nonetheless, just for tradition’s sake.

Well, not only have you obviously made the switch to digital despite your traditional preference of the printed book, but take it from me, you also want to adapt to modern TOC usage. There is a very good reason why you would not want your TOC in the front of the book.

Apart from the fact that it can potentially give away major plot points through chapter titles, which would be the first thing people see when they open your e-book, the main reason is a thing called reading samples. How does that make sense? Well, think of it this way. When Amazon creates an excerpt of the first 20% of your book to allow people to sample it for free, they take it from where in the book? The front, that’s where.

So, instead of using that exceedingly valuable space to hook your potential future readers and clue them into the premise, your style and the story of your masterpiece, you are boring them to death with a Table of Contents that contains — at its worst — nothing but a three-page list of the numbers 1 to 85. Perhaps you also threw in about five pages of legalese and credits and acknowledgments and such.

Honestly? I don’t think that’s a particularly good way to win over potential readers, let away convince them to give you their hard-earned money for the effort. Therefore, it makes sense to put non-essential things, such as a Table of Contents, in the back of the book where people can reach it but are not forced to sit through it and most importantly, where they are not bored by it when they first open your e-book or reading sample. First impressions are vital — never forget that.

This is no longer the world of print books. Things have evolved and the Table of Contents has evolved with it. Not only has its placement in the book become irrelevant, it has become interactive and therefore deserves special treatment in every possible way.

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