In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author Cheri Lasota shares her experience with the iBooks Author App.
There’s a great deal of buzz on the Internet about Apple’s iBooks Author App. Most authors and publishers haven’t used it or refuse to use it, usually citing Apple’s EULA agreement. Controversial as it may be, the announcement of the Author app was exactly what I’ve been waiting for. You see, I’m obsessed with ebooks. More than that, I’m madly in love with enhanced (interactive) ebooks. What follows is a fiction author’s take on the EULA Agreement as well as a rundown of my experience using the app to re-release my first novel this past week. Curious about the app? Read on.
The usual way to code ebooks. *sigh*
When Spirehouse Books released my novel, Artemis Rising, last September 2011, I went all out designing that thing with specialty coding. I spent about four months learning how to design, format, and code different versions for iPad, Nook, and Kindle. The process was clunky, glitchy, and slow. I loved every minute of it (remember, I’m obsessed?), but I found myself yearning for a better way.
Until now, there wasn’t a better way. Authors often mention Smashwords as their go-to aggregator for publication. But Smashwords’ coding and design is plain and lacks the capability for enhancements. Because ebook readers are essentially still in their infancy, they are riddled issues that require non-standard coding, workarounds, or simply giving up on desired design elements because valid code won’t work.
Enter the iBooks Author App.
I snapped up an iPad and I already had a MacBook. I just spent a couple of days learning the Author app and created an iBooks 2 version of my novel, which I successfully uploaded. I’ll get to the details in a moment, but my initial reaction? FREAKIN’ AWESOME.
Here’s a rundown of the elements I used most often in the process:
It took me four months of research, testing, and failure to realize I couldn’t manually code in my book trailer (still have no idea why it wouldn’t work). How did I do it with the Author app? I dragged the .m4v file from my desktop into the Intro Media section of the app. Done. (And no coding.)
Took me a couple of weeks to learn how to center a damn photograph for iBooks. I kid you not. But once I learned how, it was easy! *double sigh* One of those fun glitches in the iPad coding, you know. Anyhoo, as you can imagine, dragging and dropping photos into the app is effortless. What’s really cool is that as you move photos around the page, smart rulers and arrows help you line them up to other elements. Can’t tell you how helpful this was, as I had special glyph GIFs and another large image of a map on all 28 of my chapter header pages. Whoa. Resizing is a cinch, but the app is not set up to allow you to edit the photos themselves much. I suspect they’ll expand that capability in a later update.
iBooks fonts kick everybody’s butt. Seriously. iBooks simply has more font selection and more typographical features to add to your design. No other device even comes close in this regard. Took me a bit to test the app’s limits on font manipulation, but in the end I just went with what pleased my eye. I really wanted to delete the chapter header text and insert my own graphical title for chapter headers, but alas, I couldn’t get it to work. I’ll keep testing, because I could handcode it (took me several weeks to figure out that specialty coding too) in the previous version of my iPad epub file. I’ve not even attempted to try any custom html coding in the Author app. To be honest, I didn’t want to bother with coding since most of what I needed was already available in the app.
I’ve not played with every method or tried to import text from multiple sources. I simply copied the original text from my Word file (which was properly formatted with clean styles, etc.) and dumped the whole manuscript into the app. I hear from other sources on the Internet that there are easier ways. But I was playing around with how I wanted to format chapter header pages, so I wanted to try this method and take it slow. I then added in a chapter header page after deciding that that was preferable to using the “Preface” page for a novel. Which brings me to….
Chapter header pages
Everyone knows chapter pages are where most of your design elements shine. And Apple does an amazing job here, designing some beautiful elements that take advantage of the horizontal and vertical views of the iPad. A note on the views though: in general most elements on the chapter pages must be designed twice: once for the vertical view and once for the horizontal view. And just because your design looks purdy in one view…Well, much of my previewing and editing work involved double checking both views to ensure that the reading experience was optimal all around. I spent a lot of time playing with the first chapter header page, because I knew that once I had that perfect, I could then duplicate that page for all my chapters to save work time. That was fantastic. After the chapter header pages were set, I simply added one page to each chapter and dumped my chapter text into it. Pages were added by the app to fit the text. Voila!
Artemis Rising has a glossary of Portuguese and Latin words in the back matter. In the old method, I used InDesign to hyperlink every word and then exported the book as an epub file (a very time-consuming process). The glossary feature in the Author app is to-die-for easy to use. I highlighted each word and added it to the glossary with the click of one button. Later I went to the glossary section and pasted in each definition. That’s it. When the reader clicks on one of those special words, a little bubble pops up and gives them the definition right there. They don’t even have to navigate away from the page. Woot!
Previewing my design progress was ridiculously easy. I have iBooks open on my iPad. I plug the device into my MacBook. I hit the Preview button in the Author app. I wait a bit. Presto! The new version pops in and I get to check out my updates.
TIP: Be sure to download the iBooks 2 app on your iPad before attempting to Preview for the first time. Without it, you might run into issues. I did.
Elements I want to try next
I didn’t get a chance to use every feature in this first go-around. But I have big plans. I want to build a photo gallery of my book trailer production photos (all taken by the brilliant Beth Furumasu) as bonus back matter. I want to create an interactive map of my setting (I already have a map created in flash, but the folks at Apple are in a whiny fight with Adobe over Flash, so I can’t use it. Meh.) But I might be able to insert my own HTML5-coded map or use the interactive widget within the app itself. Still exploring that. Doubt I can find a use for the 3D widget for my novels, but one never knows. =)
Should you use the Author app to design the iPad version of your book?
Would I recommend iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author App to indie authors and/or small publishers? A resounding YES, given a couple of caveats:
- You’ve obviously got to have the hardware (an iPad and some type of Mac) and software (Lion OS X) needed. The app itself is free.
- You’ve read the EULA and feel comfortable with what you are getting into.
- You are interested in doing an enhanced ebook–it’s great for fiction or nonfiction.
My initial thoughts on the EULA Agreement controversy
The agreement itself is short-sighted and ambiguous. That goes without saying. But naysayers are forgetting one small detail that makes the current EULA’s strictures irrelevant for now: the ebook files that the iBooks Author app creates are far too complex for any other current e-reader device to display properly. In other words, you can’t read my Author-created novel on any other device than iPad, because devices like the Nook and Kindle aren’t sophisticated enough…yet.
I consider the Author app a beta. A test. A glimpse of the future. If Amazon is smart (please be smart!), they’ll hire a programmer to create a similar program and make it open to both PC and Mac users. And Barnes and Noble? They’d best get on it, too, or they’ll be the first of the Big Three to kick the bucket. I’m not even counting poor, dead Borders.
Apple’s most foolish move is to lock up their powerful programs and apps from PC users. (Anybody else think it’s ASININE that we can’t read books we’ve bought through Apple on the Web? Silly. iCloud, where’s my damn book? *narrows eyes*) But in this case, that hoarding and elitest tendency is, as I said, irrelevant. They are well aware that no other device can display this content. But that will someday change, and once again, they’ll be left in Amazon’s dust. But that’s neither here nor there.
My second thought on this: I can only sell an iBooks Author app version of my book through the iBookstore. I can sell my other versions just how I always have. I have a specially coded version for Nook and Kindle. I am curious, though: can I sell two iPad versions, perhaps giving them both a separate ISBN? One would be the Author app version and the other would be the “regular” version. Hmm…anyone have an answer on that one?
[Publetariat Editor’s Note: for a differing, and more conservative, interpretation of the current iBooks EULA, see this post on the Passive Voice blog. The debate rages on among authors and indie publishers as to the correct interpretation of the EULA; as of this writing, Apple has remained mum.]
We’ll all wait and see what happens next in this yo-yo of an industry. The potential of this app is phenomenal, and no ambiguous EULA agreement will diminish that. If you have a Mac running Lion OS X, download the app and play around with it. Even if you don’t have an iPad. Try it out and see what could one of the greatest innovations ever in the short history of ebooks.
I’ll say it again: FREAKIN’ AWESOME.
Want to see an iBooks 2 novel in action? You can download a sample or buy Artemis Rising on your iPad. Here’s a link to the book.
Let me know what you think in the comments. And if you want to reprint this blog post, feel free. Just give me a credit.
Ooh! UPDATE: This is what might make us fall into fits of glee: an open platform ebook creator! I just heard about this less than a minute ago.
One eBook Platform to Rule Them All
A company known for long-form journalism democratizes tablet publishing.
Caveats: It’s not available yet, still in private beta, and I have no idea what it might cost, if anything.