Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Damned Typos! (And Other Myths of Easy Ebook Corrections)

I was barely home from my trip when I got an email from Amazon Kindle support, telling me that a reader had contacted them about two typos they had found in the (free) ebook edition of Neptune Crossing. Would I please correct them? Hell's bells, I thought. There goes my day. And I was right.

There's this widespread misconception that because ebooks are digital, mistakes can be corrected in a jiffy and the revised edition put up before your coffee has time to cool. Sounds good. And oh, how I wish it were true. Let's see how it plays out in real life.

First, I checked the ebook, which exists in multiple formats, to see if there really were typos. Sometimes people mistake colloquialisms, or sounds, or alien words, or made-up words, or unusual usage for typos. Alas, the typos were real. They were mistakes, and they had to be fixed.

The first challenge was that I maintain multiple "master source" documents—Word docs that have all the latest corrections and styles and so forth. Docs from which new ebooks, or print-on-demand paper books, can be created. The reason there are several is that there's different front and end material, depending on the store. For example, "Buy the next book in the series from the Kindle store," with a link. Or from the Nook store. Each store allows links only back to itself, or to the author website. So when something needs to be corrected, it has to be corrected in all the master documents.

After the source docs are corrected, it's time to correct the ebooks. In the case of epub books (Nook, iBooks, everything but Kindle), the easiest way to fix something simple like a misspelled word is to open the ebook in a program called Sigil, which lets you edit the underlying text and code. Do a search, fix it, rerun validation checks, and close it up again. Then test it in a few viewers to make sure you didn't screw something else up while fixing the little thing. (You might be surprised how often this happens.) For a Kindle file, you can't use Sigil, so it's easiest to recreate the ebook from the source file in Calibre, another essential program. Then test, retest, etc.

Done? Time to upload the new versions. Easy, right? Maybe. About half the stores have changed the requirements for cover illustration size since the last upload, so you have to go back to your master cover images and hope you have a big enough one to meet the upgraded requirements. Oops, now you need to run the book through Calibre again to incorporate the larger cover image in the book. Then test again.

Time to upload (again). Kindle first, because more books sell there than anywhere else. Also, they also have the most sophisticated checking system. It now presents you with a list of possible typos. See the above list of things that are often mistaken for typos. Most the flagged words are just that. But you need to look at them anyway, to see. Okay, good, upload done. One store out of the way, now on to the next. Oops, Smashwords accepts epub uploads now, but gives a bizarre error from Firefox. Better try again, using Chrome. That works—but with about six other annoying little glitches that cause the upload to take an hour instead of a minute. The Nook store should go faster, right? Maybe, except they've changed catalog description requirements, so you have to fix those bits. Finally, Book View Café, which is a simple FTP upload. Yay!

Oops—wait. If the typos were in Neptune Crossing, then they're probably also in The Chaos Chronicles Omnibus volume, which contains the first three books. Better check. Yes, blast it, they are. Repeat steps 1-60 above, with the omnibus. Go to upload.

The Kindle spell-checker flags something like 200 words, most of them as noted above. But wouldn't you know it? It finds a real typo in Strange Attractors (Book 2), and two in The Infinite Sea (Book 3). Augghh! These books have been checked over so many times, how can that be? Nevertheless, there they are.

Go through it all again, fixing the typos in the omnibus, and then again in each edition of the individual novels. Check the results. What's this? Why is the first line of Chapter 19 of Strange Attractors indented, while all the others are flush left? Wrong style applied to that paragraph. Frakkin', frakkin', frak. Go fix it. In all the versions. Be sure and get them all. Oh wait—I need a bigger cover image for this book now, too.

Repeat as needed. Try not to go mad.

Those two typos took an entire day, and I still haven't finished with The Infinite Sea. When that's done, there's a typo a friend pointed out in Dragon Space. Aaaeeiii. 

Tell you what. The next time you find a typo or two in a book, please consider cutting the author (or publisher) a little slack. It's harder than it looks to get rid of those things! (If you find more than a few, that's just carelessness. Go ahead and give the publisher hell.)

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Monday, June 24, 2013

If You Enjoy Air Travel...Don't Do This

When Julia and I flew to the Carolinas, we took Spirit Airlines, about which the only good things I can say are, the tickets were cheap and the plane didn't crash. Did you know there's an airline that charges for carry-on bags—a lot, if you pay in advance, and more if you pay at the airport? (Hint: Spirit Airlines.) And an airline that charges for seat assignments if you want to pick a seat when you book? (Spirit Airlines.) And charges for a boarding pass if you don't go to the little kiosk to print one? (Yes. Spirit Airlines.)

The whole experience reminded of this song, "Cheap Flights":

This is also good:

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Family Reunion

I was away for a while at a Sherrick reunion—that is to say, a gathering of many of my cousins on my mother's side of the family, the Sherricks. It was great. I love my cousins, and I hadn't seen a lot of them for many years, not since the then-patriarch of the family, their dad and my Uncle John, passed away ten years ago. There were a couple of spouses I had never met.

We all gathered in a beach house on the coast of North Carolina, close to where some of them are living now. Julia and I represented the Carver family, while Allysen stayed with the still-recovering-from-bike-crash Lexi. We got a lot of sun, surf, and good company. What a family of over-achievers. One, an agricultural economist, sits on Obama's agriculture board and rebuilds houses in his spare time. One manages field development of products for a very large agricultural supply company. Several are teachers. One is recently retired after a career as head ranger at multiple national parks. That's just a sampling, and that's just in my own generation. The kids are scary smart.

So we talked and laughed, and lost sunglasses in the ocean, and played Cranium, and drank beer and margaritas. The leader types organized dinner teams, and each team planned in secret and created amazing dinner experiences. I didn't cook, but I did my bit by making frozen margaritas.

Here I am, caught in a moment of scintillating conversation.

And here's some of the crew trying to take an inflatable raft to sea. Yes, there are people on that raft. And probably one or two under it, at any given moment.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Is Some Club Reading My Book?

Most days I sell between zero and a few ebooks total in the Barnes and Noble Nook store, a steady drip-drip-drip of sales. (I do better, thankfully, in the Kindle store, and even better for some reason in the Kindle UK store. Still, even there, sales have lagged in the last month or so.) But the other day, there was an abrupt spike in the Nook store: 19 sales for the day, almost all of which were The Chaos Chronicles, Books 1-3. The next day was less, but still better than usual. What's up with that? I wondered, marveling happily. (I should note that, for many writers, these numbers would be reason for scowling, not smiling. But I was smiling.)

I still wonder what was behind it, but my best guess is that some reading club has decided to try my Chaos books, and they all ordered from the Nook store and not the Kindle store or Book View Cafe (and I wouldn't know about the Apple/Sony/Kobo stores, because reporting is slow there). Is this true? Does somebody know? Or is it just one of those unexplainable synchronicity things?

Everyone* in my vast organization wants to know. And we hope that all the rest of you will follow suit, or encourage someone else to.

*My wife, and me.

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Good Time to Buy an Ereader/Tablet?

In case you haven't seen the ads, Barnes and Noble is running a Father's Day sale on their Nook HD (for high-definition screen) and the larger Nook HD+, marking both down significantly. The best discount is on the HD+, which is almost half off (from $269 down to $149). I'm going to get one myself, even though I already have a tablet, because it will be useful to have as a test platform for ebook formatting.

If you haven't taken the plunge yet, this might be a good time.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Life Takes a Hard Turn, Literally

Monday I got the kind of text message you don't want to get, from our daughter Lexi. "Hit by car. I'm okay, but going by ambulance to hospital." !!! She was biking home from her lab when a car turning into a parking lot hit her and sent her flying.  She escaped without broken bones or head injury—pretty miraculous—but she has one badly banged up knee and one very badly banged up knee. After a full night in the ER, she came home on crutches and heavy painkillers. She's camped out on the sofa now, moving as little as possible and awaiting a further doctor visit (today) and probably an MRI to find out the extent of her injuries. At best, large and nasty bruises. More likely, some ligament damage, and who knows what else.

We've been planning a trip to a family reunion, but now we're holding off a bit longer on that, since we don't know how soon she'll be able to travel.

She's had a steady stream of supportive friends coming to visit. At least we're finally getting to meet some of her coworkers and friends! They've all been great—two of them hanging out in the ER for hours with us, and the rest coming to the house bringing food and flowers. If you have to be immobilized and in great pain, it's good to have friends like hers.