Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Getting your Lulu.com book on iBookstore

I've always liked the Lulu.com model. I write a book and I post it to a web site. Lulu provides a marketplace for selling my book, handles the money, and prints individual copies of my book on demand as copies are ordered. For the author, there is no fuss, no muss, and no living with boxes and boxes of expensive vanity published books.

I was excited when Lulu announced that it would be supporting the ebook format to be used by the upcoming iPad. There were even going to give away an iPad to authors who converted their books before the iPad was released. Bonus. Lulu was pushing a paid conversion service (a minimum of $175 and 4-6 weeks). I Googled around a bit and decided that the .epub format conversion wasn't really that complicated, particularly if you have some technical background. I could do this myself.

By the way... if you ever want to run a contest and hope to sell some conversion services through the contest, you really need to make sure your conversion service can get the work done BEFORE the contest deadline. The blog was posted on March 12th and the deadline for posting a converted .epub version of a book was April 4th -- three weeks.

I'm just saying....

Anyway, back to the story: I knew that since this was all new (the iPad, anyway) that this was going to take a lot of work on my part to figure out. My expectations for specific direction were very low. I girded my digital loins and dug in. I read the sketchy details and started downloading software. I tried different software packages and different approaches to the conversion. I finally figured out what the key pieces to an .epub file were, tested the files, made my final conversions, and posted finished files on Lulu.

I even redesigned the covers so that they would be all pretty sitting on that virtual bookshelf.

I checked around my Projects page (basically, my workspace on Lulu). Nothing there about submitting my files. Odd. Well, this is all new, right? I went back to the home page. There's a gigantic ad that says iPad.

I clicked on that. I got a small, focused series of pages that looked rather useful.

I clicked on the Authors tab since *ahem* I am an author.

Good, good. Nice big button that says "Do it yourself". I clicked on that and...got shunted to the first page of the wizard that lets you upload your file. We'll, I've already done that. How do I get to the submitting part?

The blog was useful before. I headed back to that and find a great article that, once again, assures me that I can do this myself (though I really should pay for the conversion services). OK. Good. It told me that I need the following to get my book on the iBookstore:

  1. It has to be in ePub format (done).
  2. It needs to be validated with ePubCheck.
  3. It needs an ISBN.

I downloaded ePubCheck and after installing a lot of new software that wanted to be run by command line (a bad sign), I got back on the web and found someone who thoughtfully posted a web-based version. I ran my files through and found some problems. The problems were easily fixed and I revalidated. They passed with flying colors. Back to Lulu.

All I needed now was an ISBN. I started with the blog posts. Nope. Nothing there. I went back to my Projects page. Well, there were links to pages about ISBN, but the articles were only about ISBN on printed books. Hmmm. OK. Let's try the Support area.

Lots of useful-looking articles... absolutely none of them are of any use whatsoever. I was (and still am) amazed. Am I the only person who has run up against this?

I clicked on the support chat link on the page. I've had good luck with chats in the past. I'm connected with a lovely person (I assume he's a man) named Winson.

Winson: How may i help you today?
Me: I created and validated my epub files and want to submit them for the iBookstore. I can't figure out what my next step is.
Me: The only thing I'm missing (I think) is an ISBN number
Winson: May I place you on hold for few minutes so I can get back to you with the details?
Me: Of course.
Winson: Thank you for your patience.

This told me that, polite as he was, Winson had no earthly idea what I was talking about. He got back to me about two minutes later.

Winson: You need to purchase the "ePub iBookstore Distribution Submission Service" for your eBook to reach the apple iBookstore. This is a free service that Lulu offers. I request you to view the the link provided below for more information related to ISBN for iBookstore:
Winson: http://www.lulu.com/content/8590219
Me: Checking.. hang on
Winson: Sure, please go ahead.

Sure enough, the link took me to a page that allowed me to buy this free service. Then I started thinking....

Me: Awesome. I have two books. Do I need to "buy" this twice?
Winson: Yes, you will need to apply this service to your various book individually.
Me: OK. I'm struggling a bit with the Lulu web site... I just "bought" it, but I don't know how it applies to one or the other of my book.
Me: The direct link was great... but how would I find that page again if I started at the My Projects page?
Winson: Please note that you can search for the product on the "buy" tab by searching for "iBookstore Distribution Submission Service"
Winson: As you purchase our sales representative will get in touch with you too.

I tried the search -- mostly just to check Winson's facts.

The first search brought up 23 thousand -- yes, that's THOUSAND -- results. Rigghhhttt. Then I noticed the drop-down. Ah ha! A filter. I searched again.

This time, the search brought up 57 results... none of which led to the page I was that Winson had given me to link to. Just for kicks, I added in the quotations around the search term and searched again.

No results at all.

I decided to wait for the Sales Representative to get back to me. This was looking more and more like a rinky-dink operation. The good thing about rinky-dink operations is that once you get in touch with a person, that person can usually help... since he or she is usually sitting in a crappy little room with everyone else in the company.

A few minutes later, I got this email.

(click on the image to read it)

What set me off was this line: You are responsible for ensuring that your file will pass the ePub check 1.0.5 validation. You will not be notified if the validation failed. Lulu will not be able to submit your book.

Here's how I read this: Lulu will run my file through their own validation before it gets submitted to Apple, but never tell me whether or not it passed their validation. They'll take my nasty little DIY-converted book, but they feel no need to ever let me know whether or not it was submitted to the iBookstore. I just submit it, say a little prayer that the file didn't get corrupted or that they aren't using some slightly different version of the validation software than I am, and wait. In a minimum of four weeks, I should start hitting the iBookstore looking for it.

Really?

Really?

Is this Lulu.com's idea of good customer service?

I got on Twitter and started complaining to the poor soul at the other end of the @Luludotcom account. S/he assured me that I will be informed. I snottily suggested that s/he tell Alison.

We'll see. In the meantime, I'm checking into Smashwords.

UPDATE: I did actually get a notice that my file passed the validation and was sent to Apple.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Thoughts on the iPad

As anyone who follows my or my husband's Twitter feed knows, we got an iPad this weekend. We hurried back from our long weekend to get to the Apple Store.

The child just didn't understand.

"Why do we have to leave?"

"We need to get back to buy a new gadget."

She looked around at the beautiful environment around us. "Why?"

"Why? Well.. because... well... it's important... I guess... it's an iPad. You know... an iPad..." I pulled out my iPhone. "It's like a big version of this."

"Oh. Can I have your phone?"

"No. I won't replace my phone... it's just sort of... umm... extra."

"Oh. Do we have to leave now?"

"Yes."

"But why?"

"Because I said so."

We got home, breezed in, paid our money, and breezed back out. Since it was a freelance gig of Mike's that paid for it, he got dibs for the first night.

I got my sticky, little, Easter-egg-colored fingers on it today. My thoughts:

  1. The shape is OK (there's a slight bow in the back that feels good against my fingers), but it's a bit heavier than I would have liked. I predict some sore wrists if I use this thing a lot.
  2. I didn't get enough time (I was getting up every few minutes to answer the bleating pleas of the child who thought she wasn't getting enough attention) to see if it gets hot. I had as much as 10 minutes with it and didn't notice the heat. That's long enough for my iPhone to get hot, particularly if I'm running wireless.
  3. The device doesn't charge up off of a PC's USB connection. That's really lame. Either the syncing has to happen faster or the iPad needs to charge up off of any USB connection I can find. That's been hugely valuable with my iPhone.
  4. It's cool. It's seriously cool. True to Apple's pattern of high quality devices, this acts as advertised. The screen is bright and rich in color. The touch screen reacts beautifully to my finger and the scrolling is smooth and lovely.
  5. The interface acts just like an iPhone. It is really nice to be doing iPhone apps on that big a screen. It feels luxurious.
  6. The screen, while beautiful, is shiny and reflective. It's practically a mirror for whatever is around me when I'm looking at it. It looks great in a darkened room but god help you if you open a curtain. I won't be taking this sucker out of the house for outdoor web surfing much.
  7. The apps that weren't built in by Apple are, predictably, inconsistent. Very few look or act different than the iPhone (ie., they don't take advantage of the extra screen size). Since no one could get a hold of these things before Saturday, I won't hold that against them... it's just fair warning to others who are tempted to be a "bleeding edge technology buyer". There's not much there just yet.
  8. The apps that are iPad specific are noticeably more expensive than your average iPhone app. I like to spend a dollar or two on iPhone apps and typically don't have any trouble with that. The iPad apps were clocking in at between five and ten dollars. That's a big red flag for me. Yeah, I bought a new device but don't let that imply that I'm now going to be willing to cough up that much extra money for apps. I'm still the cheapskate I was a week ago.
  9. The movie that Mike bought and downloaded from the iTunes store was GORGEOUS. The movie that I had ripped from one of my existing DVDs for my iPhone looked notably less so. It wasn't awful, but it was pixelated and "crunchy" on the edges. I'm going to have to re-rip all of my DVDs... and they'll be larger in size. That's annoying since the device has rather limited memory and zero options for expansion.
  10. The streaming movie from Netflix was surprisingly nice... even over our crappy wireless home network. That was a very pleasant surprise and helped to temper the annoyance generated by the previous observation.
  11. I haven't had a chance to really spend time with a book, but the ebook app is comfortable to look at. I had some trouble with third-party ebook apps that I'm kind of wondering about.
  12. Mike and I had this crazy idea that we could kind of share the thing. We can't. We have to choose an iTunes account which means one of us doesn't get the apps we want. The limited memory means I can't have my ridiculous amount of music and movies loaded, and he needs to lay off the high-rez photographs. It's not really a good device for sharing. I'm sure it was engineered that way.

I'm glad we got it. It isn't going to change my life the way my iPhone did... but I think I'll find a place -- a netbook-shaped place -- for it in my daily life.