Sunday, May 15, 2011

.epub, Independence, and Being Nearly 40 (Or the challenges of being a Narnia writer in the Apple age)

I am almost 40 years old.

Now, I know a lady never tells her age.  It's a good thing I never claimed to be one of those.  After all, ladies also iron their napkins and send thank you cards in color-coordinated envelopes.  I don't iron ANYTHING, and I am frankly having a good day if I hop on facebook to tell people I survived the drive home after a wild night out.

But I'm old enough to remember the fantasy of what it would mean to be a writer.  You guys who write, you remember the dream, right?  The original dream, as it was dreamed in high school and college, the dream of writing a short story or poem for a school assignment, and moving your teacher/professor so deeply by your genius that the work was entered in some sort of contest or submitted directly to a friend in publishing, and wham-O, suddenly you're a superstar -- remember that dream?  Oh, I do.  I remember that the dream meant that I would turn in a stack of typewritten pages, and they would magically be transformed into boxes full of lovely, full-color-covered books.

Fast forward 30 years.  Not only did that stupid old dream not come true, but I am now asked to evolve my expectations of what publishing looks like.  Gone are the fantasies of hearing the knock on the door and accepting delivery of a box of hardcover books, every one of which features my name on the cover.  I am now an independent author, and I've been asked to not only understand but accomplish something called .epub.

No. Friggin'. Way.

Okay, look.  I'm not inept.  In fact, I'm a gadget freak.  Between us, the husband and I have two Kindles, three laptops, and two desktops, not to mention smartphones and iPods.  I'm fascinated by what technology has accomplished in the last ten years.  I am a nerd, in fact -- but more a nerd on the user end.  I can usually give people pointers on how to use their gadgets.  Getting raw data into the gadgets?  Not my bag, baby.

So that was my dilemma going into 2011: How do I turn that corner?  I mean, I can convert my manuscript from MS Word to PDF, but after that?  I'm at sea.  And I need help.

But I also didn't want to pay for the full-on service that was being offered by Createspace and Lulu.  It sounded expensive, and I'm sure most of you indie writers know just how little start-up money is given to you when you take on the world of big publishing.  That's right.  Goose egg.

What to do?

Well, fortunately, I stumbled upon the perfect blend of control and assistance:

Look, I know some of my younger, quicker, nerdier friends are disappointed in me right now.  You're shaking your heads and thinking to yourselves, Gosh, MJ, I thought you would at least try to figure this out on your own.  Well, I did try.  I tried a few different programs.  And I failed abysmally.  Don't ask me how I failed, or what I did wrong.  I'm sure it had something to do with megapixels or something.*  At any rate, it didn't work, and I have a full-time job I didn't want to take time off of in order to troubleshoot the malfunction. It was time to reach out.

Ebookburn's interface is simple.  You title your work, upload a cover, fill out a few other specifics, then proceed to entering the book's content.  As a writer, you'll be familiar with the general concept: each chapter is added independent of the others.  This process not only gives you a great deal of control, but it helps to create the table of contents (one of those features people really love on their Kindles and Nooks).  Ooops!  Did you add those chapters out of order?  Not to worry.  You can reorder the chapters using the simple list interface.

Yes, this is a fantastic process, but it is by far not the most appealing part of working with the folks there.  They follow up to make sure your file came out okay.  If you have questions, they become personally invested in the solutions.  If you are a repeat customer, the proprietors will go out of their way to make sure that the files you created with them are perfect.  I don't feel alone in this, and I am more than getting my money's worth out of their service.  Their follow-up sure makes me feel like I'm not alone.

Okay, so commercial over, but does it make sense now?  Being 40 means I don't want to be alone.


*Yeah, this footnote explains that I know megapixels are related to graphics.  Joke confirmed.  (I am not that pathetic.)

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