A Fiction Author Reviews iBooks Author App: Should You Try It?

This post, by Cheri Lasota, originally appeared on her site on 1/26/12 and is reprinted here in its entirety with her permission.

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? FREAKINAWESOME.

Here’s a run­down of the ele­ments I used most often in the process:

Video

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.)

 Photos

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.

Fonts

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.

Inserting text

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!

Glossary

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!

Preview

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.]

Next steps

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: FREAKINAWESOME.

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.

http://​www​.tech​nol​o​gyre​view​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​m​i​m​s​s​b​i​t​s​/​2​7​5​1​9​/​?​p​1​=A3

Caveats: It’s not avail­able yet, still in pri­vate beta, and I have no idea what it might cost, if anything.

 

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