Friday, September 30, 2011

Print edition of Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks

Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks - print editionThis is an exciting day! My Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks Miniguide is now available in print from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is 48 pages long in full color and includes an index, and explains how to create fixed layout EPUB books with an accompanying audio track that plays while the corresponding text is highlighted. (Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks is also available in EPUB and PDF formats.)

Read Aloud books—which currently work only in iBooks on iPhone/iPad/iPod touch—are perfect for children's story books, but don't stop there. Think about the possibilities of language instruction where your readers can see the words highlighted as the speaker pronounces them (and click on them to repeat as many times as necessary). Or perhaps you'd like to publish a play or poetry and include a dramatic reading. Imagine a travel book in which you can narrate the photographs.

This book teaches you how to create the audio, create and format the text, and then mark both the audio and text so that they play and are highlighted simultaneously. You'll also learn how to create stop and start buttons and a background soundtrack.

Here's what Pablo Defendini of Open Road Integrated Media had to say: “Just took a read through the Read Aloud guide—great job! Hits all the points, and it doesn't look like anything is missing. Also, great, great Grep recipes!”

Because this miniguide focuses so closely on just what you need to know for Read Aloud, some knowledge of EPUB in general and Fixed Layout books in particular is also required. To that end, you may also be interested in my EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating ebooks for the Apple iPad and other ereaders (available both in print and in digital editions) and my Fixed Layout EPUBs for iPad and iPhone (available only digital format, with print on its way).

I would also like to note that this is my first foray into publishing my own books in print and I'm really excited about it. Cookwood Press is just me, and thanks to InDesign and Print on Demand and Lightning Source and distribution, a one-woman operation like my own can now sell high quality full color print and digital books all over the world with very little initial investment or infrastructure (though a lot of experience in writing and publishing!). I am hoping it allows me to get more books out more quickly on a variety of topics.

One of my strategies is to write very short books that cover a very specific topic, and Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks is a perfect example. It is just 48 pages but covers everything you need to know. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave reviews wherever you buy it, even if it's just a couple of words.

Volume discounts are available. Please contact me directly.

By the way, that gorgeous cover with the hand-modeled 3D pencil was created by Andreu Cabré. You can see more of his work on his blog: Everything 3D. His demo reel is particularly impressive.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Apple throws down the gauntlet for ebooks in Europe

Yesterday, 26 new iBookstores appeared in the Territory options in iTunes Connect. All of them are in Europe, most within the Euro zone, but a few (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland are not). Their combined population is 304,866,797 people.

This is a huge development. While Amazon is clearly dominant in the US, it has only a few stores in Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, and just recently Spain), and its collection of local language books is, uh, irregular. The Kindle, to my knowledge is sold only through Amazon UK and US, though people in other countries can order it from Amazon US. (Michalis tells us in the comments that Kindle is also available in Germany for sales to that country, Austria, and Luxembourg.)

That means that Apple has a tiny window of opportunity to establish a foothold in Europe by making it easy for publishers to sell books in the local languages of each country. I hardly think it's a coincidence that Apple opened iBookstores in 26 additional European countries mere hours after Amazon announced its new Kindle Fire.

And note that publishers who are already in iBookstore (say in the US or UK) have already signed contracts for distribution in most of Europe. Only Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland require new paperwork. And, Apple doesn't have to bother with paper books like Amazon does.

So Apple has the infrastructure up and running, all they need now is to encourage publishers to make their books available.

Some details:

Just because the territories are listed as options for selling your ebooks does not mean that the iBookstore itself is live. I have heard from readers in some countries that say the iBookstore there is indeed live, and from others that there is some system maintenance going on.

This seems to be an everchanging story, so I'll use this blog post to add updates.

iBookstores confirmed live: Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Lithuania, Finland (29Sep11) (and US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada) If your local iBookstore is live, please send me a screenshot!

Adding your ebooks to all of these stores is straightforward and easy, although the UX is pretty abysmal. Just go to iTunes Connect, go to Manage Your Books, choose your book, click Edit Rights and Pricing, click Add New Territory, choose the desired country, set the price and other options (I just choose Jan 1, 2011 because it's quicker, and it uses today's date), click Save and then go back again to choose the next new territory.

How to create a link to an ebook on a particular iBookstore? The easy way is to use the iTunes Link Maker. Search for your book in the country of your choice, and it'll generate the proper code for you.

Or you can create one by hand. The URL will look like:

Change the country code to the country of the iBookstore you're interested in. Wikipedia has a handy table.

According to Mark Coker of Smashwords, if you click on a link and get to a page in the local language of that store, that means the book exists (and ostensibly the store is live). If you get sent to iTunes, that means the book is not available in that country's iBookstore.

I'll update this post as more information surfaces. If your local iBookstore goes live, please let me know (and/or send me a screenshot if you can).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apple's iBookstore opens in 26 new countries

Christian Peters just alerted me to the fact that he can choose Spain as a market for his books on the iBookstore. Before today, you could only choose US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada.

Now, you can add twenty-six new markets for your iBooks: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Replublic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portgal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia,
, Sweden, Switzerland.

To do so, go to iTunes Connect and open the book whose markets you want to add. Then click the Add New Territory button in the upper left corner:

iTunes Connect

Then, choose the desired country from the Territory pull-down menu, and set the publication date, price, and so on.

I don't have access to all those stores to see if they've gone live yet, but it's definitely imminent. Get your books in those markets quick!

Note: Would it be so much to ask for me to be able to add all the Euro countries at once, with a single date and a single price?

Another note, since Blogger inexplicably refuses to let me add comments: How about a nice little table with checkboxes and entry fields and lots of places where I can choose "select all".

Yet another update: I'm getting "Not on store" errors for Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland (all non Euro countries). When I click on it I get this message: "No Contract. You do not have a contract in effect for this territory. Please work with your iBookstore representative to enter into a new contract if you wish to sell your books in the territory in question."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Calling for Submissions to my EPUB Gallery

There aren't enough hours in the day. I imagine you noticed. One of the things that's really hard for me is to have enough time to experiment creating new EPUBs and to have enough time to write about them too and share the techniques discovered therein.

The other day I got a very nice note from David Fox, of Electric Eggplant, who, along with his wife Annie Fox, have just released a book called Are you my friend? It's a Read Aloud EPUB for kids, with a professional narration and charming illustrations. He asked if I knew of any websites that reviewed EPUB picture books and it occurred to me that maybe that was the solution to my problem.

Are you my friend?

Do you have a well-designed EPUB book that you think would be of interest to other folks working on EPUB books? If you want me to review your book and are willing to let me talk about how you created the effects or design you created, then feel free to send me a copy.

Your EPUB file can be fixed layout with or without Read Aloud or it can be a flowing book. It's OK if it works only in one ereader and if it works in several. You don't have to sell the book DRM-free, but you do have to send me a DRM-free version. And of course, I reserve the right to review only the books I really like, or that have some really well-designed feature.

I'll choose the ones I like best and talk about them in a specially tagged EPUB Gallery, here on my blog, as regularly as I can muster. And hopefully, I can give you some exposure for your book—and your clever, well designed EPUBs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Borrowing Kindle books from the library

The good news is that it's really easy. I started at the Boston Public Library. I don't live in Boston, but all Massachusetts residents have the right to a free e-library card. (OK, not free, we pay for it with our taxes.)

It turns out, though, that this process is virtually the same for all libraries that lend Kindle books. The parts around the edges will show the logo and information that is specific to your library, but the lists and buttons and things you have to do are all exactly the same.

1 Anyways, start at the BPL and choose Electronic Books under BPL Catalogs.

bpl catalogs ebooks

2 On the eBooks, Audio, and Video Search screen that appears, click OverDrive eBooks down under eBooks. (There are other ways to get there, but this is my favorite.)

BPL - Electronic Resources

3 Click the Advanced Search tab.

Browse eBooks

4 Now choose Kindle Book under Formats and check the "Only show titles with copies available" at the bottom.

Search BPL for Kindle-2-1

5 The BPL currently has 5594 Kindle titles, but while I was doing this tutorial only 3344 were available. That's nothing like the 22 million plus titles in its print collection, but it's a good start. My local library system has 2614 Kindle titles with 1247 of them available this minute. Hey, but Kindle just went live today, did folks really grab them up that quickly? Probably not. It looks like libraries have a license for a given book in EPUB and Kindle formats, and when someone takes out the EPUB, the Kindle is not available, and vice versa.

6 You can either browse around or use the Search within results field to narrow down your search.

Search within

7Once you find the book you're interested in, click the Add to Cart button next to Kindle Edition.

Add to Cart Kindle-1

8 On the next screen, you can either go back and find more books or proceed to check out. Let's click Proceed to Checkout.

Proceed to check out

9 If you haven't already logged in, you’ll need to do that now. The BPL says it will require cardholders to enter a pin starting October 3, but for now all you need is your library card number. Then click Sign in.

10 Next, the library will show you the book(s) you're checking out, along with their formats so you can confirm that you want them. Click Confirm Check Out when you're ready to go ahead.

check out bpl-1

11 Next, you'll be in the My Digital Account area. You can come back here later by clicking the My Digital Account tab if you need to redownload a book or if you get interrupted. Click the Get for Kindle button.

Get for Kindle

12You'll be spirited to Amazon's website where you'll have to sign in with your account name and password. Then you'll see your book page with a big Get library book button (where the Buy button usually is). Click it!

get library book amzn

13At this point, as long as you have a wifi connection, the book is WhisperSynced into your Kindle, whichever one you chose in the previous step. (If you don't have a wifi connection, you can download the book to your computer and then use the USB cable to connect your Kindle and drag the file over.)

On Kindle

If you download it to a different device than the one you want to read it on, you can find it in the Archived Items folder.

And that's it. Happy reading.

TimeOut Kindle example

This is a page from the Time Out Barcelona guide that I borrowed in Kindle format from the Boston Public Library and opened up in the Kindle app on my iPad. It's a picture of the square near our apartment in Gràcia. It's now called “Plaça de la Vila”!

Guess I could've called this post “The Thirteen Steps”. Would you be interested in seeing it in PDF format for printing out?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dialing without mittens (Twitter in Catalan #twitterencatala)

We want Twitter translated into Catalan, image by Vilaweb.catWe Americans mostly speak English (and exclusively English) and are so lucky to have so much technology in our own language. Imagine, for a minute, if we didn't. If you had to navigate in French or in Japanese. It would feel like dialing a telephone with mittens on.

Catalans dial with mittens every day because Twitter's interface is not available in Catalan. Twitter announced last week the translation into five new languages with plans for six more, none of which was Catalan. There is no logical reason for this. Catalan has more speakers than several of the languages proposed and has a vibrant, active online community. Catalan, for example, is the 13th most used language on Wikipedia with over 350,000 articles published in that language, many more than say, Wikipedia articles in Korean, Malay, Danish, or Hungarian, all of which have or are slated to have Twitter versions.

In fact Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, promised last year that Twitter would soon be found in Catalan. And yet the months pass by, and it doesn't happen.

Since I joined Twitter a couple of years ago, it has turned into one of the most important tools on my computer. It helps me learn new technologies, keep up with the ones I already know something about, connect with colleagues all over the world, and confirm if what I just felt really was an earthquake.

One of the best features of Twitter is the way it conveys what Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein call “ambient intimacy” in their excellent work, The Twitter Book. Ambient intimacy is the connection that you feel for people who you follow by dint of the personal details that they add to their Twitter feeds.

And despite the luddite view that knowing what someone had for lunch is just too much information, knowing that they barbecue organic vegetables or can their own strawberry jam really does give context to the more professional information they might be sharing. In the same way that the real life examples in my books make the technical information more tangible, and thus more intelligible, knowing something about the people we are talking to online makes the information they share all the more valuable, and frankly, more interesting.

Which is a very long explanation of why I tweet so much about Catalonia and Barcelona and the Catalan language and Catalan politics and human castle building and calçots.

Albert Cuesta, a journalist in Catalonia, started a petition to ask Twitter to provide its interface in Catalan. I ask you to please sign that petition: He's not even asking Twitter to do the translation, just to allow that the translation be made. And then please retweet and spread the word.

Today at 2pm EDT, 11am PDT, and 8pm local time in Barcelona (CET), we will tweet in unison our request to translate Twitter into Catalan. Please join us by adding #twitterencatala @jack @biz @dickc to your tweets.

Catalans, too, deserve the right to use this powerful tool in their own language; to dial without mittens.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hide Audio in Read Aloud to avoid Shifting Images

I found a weird behavior in a Read Aloud book I was working on today: each full spread image started about 20 pixels down the page and then shifted back up to the top after a second or two. I did my usual compare and conquer with an earlier version that didn't have the shift (BBEdit's Compare Two Front Documents is a key tool in this battle) until I narrowed it down to the audio element.

Remember that in a Read Aloud book, the audio element is not visible, but rather, is controlled by the Read Aloud menu, or by buttons. However, if you don't hide the audio button, you may get this shifty image, as I did.

Shifting images in Read Aloud from Liz Castro on Vimeo.

The solution is to push the audio element off the screen with this code:

audio {position: absolute;
top: -30px;

as Apple suggests, and yes, I admit it, as I said was probably not necessary. I was wrong, it is necessary.

Fixed Layout EPUB with Book Creator

I write books about how to create fixed layout EPUB ebooks by hand so it would seem like reviewing an WYSIWYG iPad app like Book Creator would be shooting myself in the foot. But if you've read me for a while, I hope you know that's not how I work. While it's true that I like getting under the hood and figuring out how things work so I can do it my own way, I'm not at all adverse to good tools that make the job easier.

I liked Book Creator from the start. It's interface is simple and clean and intuitive. After I had played with it for a bit, my daughter picked up my iPad and said, “hey, you're writing a book about me!” since I had happened to use photos of her for my test. I told her she could make her own and she spent the next hour and a half happily placing photos and creating her own book. She asked me for help a couple of times, but mostly, she could figure it out without instructions.

Here's what it looks like. You open Book Creator and and click the New Book icon to begin. You can drop in any photos that you have saved on your iPad. If the orientation of the photo matches the orientation of the page (portrait for the cover, landscape for the interior spreads), Book Creator automatically places it to fill the spread. If not, it's centered. You can make photos larger and smaller, but unfortunately, you can't crop them. (One wobbly hack for cropping is to make the photo larger than the page and have the part you don't want hang off the edges. Only the part on the page will be used.)


You add text by pressing the Tt button and then the i button to choose a font, font-size, bold, italic or underlining, alignment, color, and background color. I like the way you can slide the text bigger and smaller and how you can see the effects immediately (as long as the info menu isn't covering where your text is).

Book Creator Text

Adding pages is as easy as clicking on the right arrow. If there's a page there, you navigate to it, if there's not, Book Creator adds one. To delete pages, click the Pages button in the upper-left corner and then the Edit button. You can also rearrange spreads in that Pages menu (which somehow is titled Contents).

And the best part is that once you're done, you click the Away arrow (not sure if it has a name, but it's a common iPad button for going to another app) and choose iBooks (there are other options in the menu but none of them work yet, because none of them support fixed layout EPUB yet!).

Book Creator export

Book Creator sends you and the book to iBooks. The code that Book Creator generates is pretty reasonable, though I wish they had kept the styling information out of the XHTML and wholly in the CSS. Still, it's not too bad to work with if you want to edit it yourself. (You can use PhoneDisk to grab the EPUB files.)

Book Creator to iBooks

Complaints? It's still pretty basic. I really want to be able to crop photos, rotate them, and add borders. Red Jumper recommends using an external app for that, still right on the iPad, but as much as I like a simple program that just does what it's supposed to, these are pretty minimal functions. I also want to add video and audio.

I think some of the interface could be more clear. I continually press the Tt button when I want to change the formatting of the text (even though that's the button for editing the content of the text), and the Pages button should probably look like the Table of Contents button in iBooks, since it has practically the same function. I want the info menu to float so it doesn't cover the bits I'm interested in.

More importantly, I want to be able to control the size of the layout, or at least have a few choices, and in particular be able to create portrait-oriented books. The fixed size of 450px wide by 675px high is too small and doesn't give enough room to zoom (as I describe in my Fixed Layout EPUBs Miniguide.)

Still, right now, I think this is a great start, and Book Creator is a perfect place to begin for people who feel a bit uncomfortable wading through code, and/or who don't need the precision or added effects (like Read Aloud, for example) that you can still only add by hand. I can also totally imagine using it for creating quick mock-ups. And it's a fantastic tool for kids—both for telling stories and for creating, say, science reports. Above all, I'm really looking forward to the next version!

You can find more information about Book Creator on Red Jumper Studio's site, which includes a very nice demo and FAQ.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Two little Read Aloud things

I really get a lot of email. And I'm embarrassed to admit that although I answer a fair bit of it, I don't answer all of it. On the other hand, if you ask me a very specific question and tell me what you've done and what you're not sure about, I'm likely to get right back to you (especially on Twitter :)

The curious and awesome thing about helping people is that so often I learn new things myself. That was the case this morning. Costas Gheraniou, a reader in Greece, has been having trouble getting Read Aloud to work, despite working through my new Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks miniguide. We went back and forth on Twitter for a bit but the behavior that he was describing didn't make sense to me. He said that the book wouldn't play when he chose Start Reading, but that it would play if he clicked on a particular word.

One of my disappointments with Read Aloud was that it always starts at the beginning of a page (or a spread, even worse). Could it really be that clicking on a word would make that word play? So I got him to send me his file and I took a look. He had been using my example file as a starting off point and had removed all of the pages except the first one and then added his own audio and smil file.

This is a great way to learn by the way: start with something that works, and then adding your own bits in incrementally so that if something doesn't work, you can pinpoint just what it was. At any rate, our files were virtually identical except for the fact that his had only one page, and mine had four. And that was the problem: A one page Read Aloud book won't start to play when you hit Start Reading. It has to have at least two pages. That's an iBooks bug, if you ask me, but it's nice to know about, and easy to workaround: just create more than one page and it'll work fine.

The second part was something I hadn't realized, and works in my books as well. Once a book is playing, you can touch any word on the page to restart the playback from that point. It doesn't pause and it doesn't limit itself to that word, but you can at least control where it starts.

I wish this would work even if the book was not playing. It would be great to be able to play just individual words of interest.

Thanks, Costas!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poll: Paper or Bits?

I've been learning a lot about publishing my own books, and am seriously considering offering print editions of my miniguides (with links to download the example files). Would you, dear reader, prefer to buy my books in print or continue to read them in EPUB and PDF editions? If you wouldn't mind, answer the poll here in the right-hand column of my blog. I'd sure appreciate it.

The results are in! Out of the 130 people who voted, 82 said they preferred the ebook format over print. Only 18 preferred print, and 21 said they'd buy both. 9 said they had no preference.

At first glance, that might look like an overwhelming victory for electronic formats, except that the poll must be pretty skewed by the fact that I asked for responses from Twitter and my blog, where people are most likely to be comfortable reading on screen. The truth is I, like the rest of the world, sell many more books in paper than I do electronically.

I thought the fact that 1/3 of the responses preferred print, both formats, or had no preference, was even more telling, given the folks who I asked.

At any rate, I keep printing out bits of my miniguides so I can consult them faster. So, it looks like once again, I'm going to make something for the rest of you just because I want it for myself :) Printed editions of my miniguides are on the way. Details to follow!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Putting up hay for the winter

Earlier I tweeted, “Put up the first load of hay bales into the barn. Now back to #eprdctn.” And you all weren't sure if I was just creating curious new metaphors. So, I thought maybe after a plethora of #eprdctn related blog posts, and all my Barcelona blogging relegated to another space, it was time to add some farm posts to Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis.

We have a big field and two cows and three sheep. We're not real farmers, but nonetheless the animals have to eat real hay in the winter. This year we were in Barcelona until the end of July, so the field was sadly neglected. We were able to convince our kind neighbor to come hay it for us Tuesday. I love watching how the baler shoots the hay into the cart:

Once it's all in bales, the job of loading it into the barn falls to us. Here is the hay cart, already half emptied.

It's my job to climb up there and drag the hay bales to that lovely orange device, the hay ladder, then flick the switch and watch the bales of hay climb up to the barn.

The hay ladder belongs neither to the kind neighbor who hayed our field nor to us, but rather to a third farmer in town who thankfully loans it to us each time we have to get hay up in the barn. I'm not sure what we'd do without it.

And then dh stacks it all in the barn:

Now we can rest easy for the winter. (And I really can get back to #eprdctn.)

More of my books