Saturday, 31 July 2010

Royal Mail - A cut too far!

I was reading a BBC News report this morning on a Royal Mail proposal to drop county names from the postal address in the UK. They've cut collections and deliveries by half during the past few years At the same time they have increased postal charges way above inflation. Now they propose to cut counties?!

Using just a post code and street name/number may work in majority of cases, but it is a recipe for wrong and delayed deliveries. What on earth do Royal Mail gain from this latest idea?


Friday, 30 July 2010

Technology ghosts

It spooks me every time it happens. I know what is happening, but the ghostly voice still sends a shiver down my back. I refer, of course, to my TomTom satnav device. Nowadays I'm mostly to be found in the centre of a city and usually use public transport to get around. So, I don't often have to often use the satnav device for my car. However, if I go somewhere unusual I'll take the satnav unit into the car, plug it into the power and let it quietly tune into the satellites as it recharges its batteries. Sometimes I use it to check the route if I'm uncertain. Once home I'll switch it off and chuck it on a shelf for a few weeks until the next trip requiring navigational assistance.
It seems that pressing the off button does not totally power down the satnav unit. It will continue to operate in an almost quiescent mode, but showing no signs of life. As the internal batteries drain they gradually get close to a level of electrical exhaustion. For some reason at that point the satnav unit autonomously switches itself back on and attempts to navigate the last chosen route. Suddenly while I'm quietly working in my study, a ghostly voice will drift down from the shelves above my desk advising me to: "Turn left at the end of the road".
This suggests a plot for a future book... people being monitored in their own homes by devices they thought they'd switched off.


Monday, 26 July 2010

A first order for Dangerous Donkey

My new book Dangerous Donkey (ISBN 978-1-907250-07-1) is not due to be released as the printed version until the middle of next month. We had the first pre-order drop into our email box this morning from one of the major book distributors in the UK They are not Amazon, who order their stock of my books direct from Lightning Source. You can of course already by the book via Lulu, but their Print on Demand prices make that an expensive option. I do have some copies available for reviewers.
Strangely enough we also have had a surge of orders for Teen Valour (the 1.3.1 edition) via Lightning Source. It is good to see things moving.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

iPad replacement for $35!

An interesting development reported in the BBC news. The Indian government has announced a touch screen tablet computer that will cost $35. From the news article it looks a little bit primitive, but it is early days yet. This announcement reminds me of back in the 1970 when we were amused by the cheap cars by an obscure Japanese company called Honda. If this type of technology is available becomes available at those prices it will be another nail in the coffin of the printed book publishers.

I understand the new device will work for left-handed people too.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Teen Valour review

I've just seen an interesting review of Teen Valour by a young lady. She rightly spotted the editing errors of the early edition in her free review copy. Those faults have since been remedied. However, she then went on to question the realism of some of the action scenes. She questions whether being at sea some 150 metres away from a dangerous overfall in a fast moving tidal channel in a small open boat in the dark of  night would be terrifying? She possibly needs to gain some maritime experience before making such comments. Sound travels a long way at night over the sea and no one who has experienced it would treat the powerful sound of sound of an overfall lightly. I've been in that situation; you know the danger is there, you can hear it but cannot see it. There are powerful currents of water moving over underwater obstacles. It is a boat wrecking environment. She should check out the Corryvreckan some time!


Printed publications for your business

My publishers Oaksys Tech (OTL) agreed to publish my book series because they were interested in having the capability to print manuals for their clients. There were a variety situations where they have found this useful. Their business is the design, creation and operations of financial market trading floors and data centres. During such projects OTL are often asked to produce formal printed operational manuals, training material and procedure manuals. There has also been a requirement to produce documentation for Business Continuity Planning (BCP). The usual response, depending on the client, was to produce photocopied binders and/or electronic documents such as pdf files either on a CD or on an Intranet Web Site. 
The principals of OTL decided that in some circumstances there was a strong business case for a properly printed and bound book. Typically this was when there would be a wide range of geographically dispersed recipients, such as in branch offices of banks and insurance companies. It is further characterised by the need to have the potential to supply high volumes at short notice to dispersed locations to a closed community.
After some investigation OTL have settled on two suppliers for printed book production. These are Lightning Source and Lulu.  Lulu is targeted more at the low end market, it is easy to use and has zero set up cost other than an implied commitment to buy a proof print of the publication. For small runs is ideal. However its print cost per page is higher than Lightning Source. Lightning Source has a much commercial/industrial feel to its business operations and they do charge set up fees which total around £100 (GBP) per publication and the publisher is expected to stand on their own two feet when preparing print ready material. Print costs are around a penny per page for black and white. There are a range of book binding options. In the end the choice of printing company comes down to the size of the print run and the physical size of the book you want to produce.  You can use both Lightning Source and Lulu to provide distribution of the printed books at a reasonable cost; you don't have to hold stocks of the books in a warehouse or store room as they both operate a print on demand business model.

If you want to sell the publication both suppliers have arrangements where the large book vendors order direct from the printer without the need for intervention by the publisher. The printers pay you the difference of the wholesale price less the the print (and distribution) costs.


Kindle fixed

The missing Kindle volume (Teen Valour) was promptly and politely fixed by the Amazon DTP support staff. Three cheers to them. It is great to be able to offer my books with the print cost stripped out.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Complaints from readers & Libraries (UK)

Recently I've been having complaints from the reading public that none of my books appear on BookArmy. I was quite surprised as the web site has a good reputation. Sure enough none of my books appear on the site, even though they appear on Amazon, Google and other book sellers site. I've had a delve around and seen that there do seem to be gaps in the publishers they allow to be displayed on their site. Perhaps there is a bug in their publishers feed handling. I've made a couple of enquiries with them and they say that it normally takes a month or so for a book to reach their electronic catalogue. I don't think they are showing any bias towards any particular publisher, but it would be good for them to confirm that they don't.

In the UK it is very difficult for new authors to get books on the shelves of libraries. In many cases the selection of books to be displayed is not actually the decision of the Library staff. In many cases this process is outsourced to external commercial organisations. These external organisations have a choke hold on the supply of books to libraries. Their published "discount" rates demanded is often higher than 50% of the list price. In fact I've seen one set at 65% of list price. In that case they demand a £10 (list price) book is sold to them for £4.50. Deduct the cost of paper, printing and distribution and you see the profit(?) margin left to the actual publisher, The publisher might then give 10% of their margin to the original author for their royalty payments. You don't often get to see new author's on the library bookshelves as a consequence of this restrictive market. 

I've queried this with a couple of librarians at branch libraries and they freely admitted they have little control over what reaches the library shelves.  Apparently this 'outsourcing' saves public money. I doubt it. As a trial my publishers offered the books at less then cost price to the libraries. The publishers were turned away and told the library would only take books through their book sellers "regardless of cost".

Not good! The public are losing out and local librarians are over-ruled.


Kindle problems continue

We've now got past the formatting of the books by the Kindle conversion programs, essentially by taking steps to avoid and bypass their formatting process with the use of only .mobi input. However now we find that some books, which have been previously uploaded and attracted sales, are not included in search results on the Amazon Kindle sales pages. We can see the books from the publisher pages and they are marked as "live", but the public cannot access them. The books just dropped off the (Amazon) market after a reload of an updated text body file.

We await the response from Amazon support.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Company Mole reloaded

I've just checked out the e-book version of Company Mole on Amazon Kindle. It was one created using the Amazon file conversion tools - in effect the old regime. Sure enough it contained formatting errors; so this morning I've reloaded a .mobi file prepared in the way described in yesterday's post. Hopefully in a couple of days the updated version will be available to the general public.


Monday, 19 July 2010

Howto go from Indesign CS4 to Amazon Kindle ...

So how did we get on with migrating printed documents to Amazon Kindle via Adobe's InDesign CS4?

This is a summary of the eventual route we took. It seems to work ok.

  1. We created new versions of the books in InDesign. The books and chapters are free standing copies away from the printed InDesign versions.
  2. We stripped out most of the formatting of text:
    a. Chapter titles were reduced in size
    b. Chapters were allowed on the next page (no odd/even setting)
    c. We removed page numbering from the books
    d. We removed the contents pages
    e. We assigned new ISBN codes on the verso pages
    f. We removed tables and converted to lists.
    g. We created new InDesign paragraph styles for the e-books; this helps to eliminate stray styles when you load the pages into the “template”. You delete the old style and assign one of the new e-styles.
    h. We eliminated special fonts like Drop Capitals at the start of each chapter.
  3. We set up the books to a page size roughly equivalent to the e-book display size so we could get a feel for how it will look on the eventual device.
  4. We exported to pdf for an eyeball check of the format of the new book.
  5. Once we'd worked out all of the formatting bugs, we exported the books to .epub format from InDesign CS4
  6. Then we imported the .epub book into Calibre software (fee/donateware) and converted it to the .mobi format using Calibre.
  7. We then used Amazon's (free) Kindle-for-PC viewer to view the converted .mobi book (Calibre). We scanned through each page looking for formatting problems. In some cases where we'd over-ridden a style in InDesign we'd find it would not accurately convert from the indd format to .epub. The over-ride formatting would be applied to the whole paragraph. We also found some corrupt characters; these seemed to be tied to left/righthand quotation marks in the original Microsoft Word documents, but it was not consistent and had not shown up when the books were printed. We needed to delve into the innards of the epub files to fix this; this is not as hairy as it sounds!
  8. The .epub file is essentially a bunch (directory) of HTML format files all compressed (zipped) together in one .epub file. If you can get at the HTML files you can edit them manually with HTML editing software (we used Dreamweaver software) and re-compress the files.
  9. First rename the file extension from .epub to .zip then double click on the resulting file name in windows explorer. Windows will offer an option to expand all. Accept that ant give it a suitable place to store the expanded files. Once that has been done follow the directory tree for the expanded document a couple of levels and look in the OEBPS where you'll find the XHTML files corresponding to each of the chapters/sections in the InDesign Book.
  10. Start up Dreamweaver, or similar editing tool, and load the XHTML file corresponding to the chapter you want to edit. Make the changes and save the file.
  11. Continue with each chapter needing change.
  12. Recompress the expanded directory to reform the .epub file. Change the file extension from .zip to .epub and you should then be able to reload the file into Calibre (go back to Step 6... until editing is fixed). Windows provides a free compression utility, from the file explorer right-click on the name of the directory you want to compress; select send to ... and chose the compression option.
  13. When you are satisfied with the .mobi output from Calibre, upload it (the .mobi file) toKindle, wait two days and your e-book will be ready for sale.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

InDesign CS4 to Amazon Kindle

What a tortuous web we weave. My books are prepared using Open Office Writer and also Microsoft Office Word 2007. My editor works on them in Word 2007 and then returns the file for final editing and review. We then take the .doc files and import them (place files) into the templates in Adobe's InDesign CS4 to provide the typesetting in preparation for printing. When we are ready to print we use CS4 to produce a pdf file which is then sent to our printers. They work from the pdf file to print out book blocks.  We use CS4 because it is great at producing accurate output and it also is great at getting rid of the various print fonts that Microsoft Word seems to want to maliciously slip into the body of your text without your knowledge and consent.
That all works fine.
Now we decided to publish an E-book version of our publications, Boy, does the immaturity of this branch of technology show or what?! Eventually we decided to use Amazon's Kindle format as a distribution platform. It takes a wide range of input formats and converts them to a Kindle format of e-book. The process is pretty slick, but has some bugs.
Firstly there is no point in using the pdf files prepared for a print house. The e-book readers are no great at handling all the different styles employed in paper printing. The book layout really has to be much more primitive. InDesign CS4 nicely produces an e-book format called .epub. That format is used by many ebook readers, but it isn't used by Kindle. So the first thing we did was to produce a different edition of our books for the e-versions, We stripped out text justification, tables etc ready for the ebooks. We removed things like always starting the next chapter on an an odd-numbered page. It just isn't relevant for modern day generic ebooks. Sure you can do this type of formatting for e-book readers, but you'd be tied to the physical screen size of a particular reader. 
Great - now all we have to do is to zap out a pdf file and upload it to Amazon, then wait 2 days and Voila your e-book is available to the public. That is what appears to happen, but it doesn't. Your pdf file can look just fine on visual inspection, but when it is shredded by the Amazon conversion programs, odd things can happen. (I think the cause of this lays back somewhere in Microsoft Word.) We had Chapter headings mysteriously disappear from the e-book. When I inspected downloaded files from Amazon, the xhtml code generated by the Amazon programs things started looking worse. Lines of text that should have been continuous were terminated with a [br /] html code for a new line. In some cases where the [p ... /p] paragraph markers were expected they wouldn't be present. What was worse was that there was no apparent pattern to the failures. The pdf & InDesign stuff looked fine, it certainly printed okay.
Amazon's help files suggested that you manually edited the HTML code and then reloaded it on to their site. If your book is 180,000 words long that just isn't workable.
After a Sunday spent investigating a way around this we think we've found a way through!! I'll resubmit the upload to Amazon, and let you know how it works out.

Here's a hint.


I should have guessed it was too easy!

I'm currently battling with the Kindle file conversion facility on the Amazon web site. When converting from pdf files I seem to get unpredictable results. Most of the output looks good, but as you look more closely there are some bad formatting errors by the Amazon Kindle programs. We've temporarily pulled the Kindle version of our books while we sort this out. Making use of Calibre looks promising at present.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Kindle - Teen Valour

I was pleased to noted that within a couple of hours of Teen Valour being added to Amazon's Kindle books someone has made a purchase. It spurs me on to have Company Mole available through this route. There will be some cost to have the book reformatted, but it will be worth it in the long run. It will have the benefit of keeping the costs down to the followers of the Adam Cranford series. I'm delighted that we can save people around $9 or more by avoiding the printing costs and shipping costs.When Teen Valour goes high volume, I'll be able to justify high volume print runs; that will allow us to reduce the cost of the printed book to the public.

I was a bit concerned about making the book available only through Amazon, but they do provide free software for PC's and other readers such as the iPad that will allow Kindle books to be read in many places. Sure it means that Amazon will receive a commission, but they are after all providing the infrastructure.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Kindle and proof prints.

We just setup my first book Teen Valour on Amazon's Kindle website. I must say it was a very easy process, though we did get the InDesign CS4 whiz-kid to prepare a new layout for the e-book. We eliminated a lot of the format and the contents page as the viewers on the market don't always handle those consistently. Freed from the costs of producing printed books we have been able to reduce the price significantly. My publisher does not believe in charging the same price as the list price of the printed book.
I'm just inspecting the first proof print of Dangerous Donkey. It is looking good. I think the smaller format will be much more to the liking of the younger readers. Despite the book going through at least four edits I spotted a missing word - arrgh! Ah well, that is not too difficult or expensive to fix. We should still be able to release by the August publication date.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dangerous Donkey released into the public domain.

After a slight delay I've released the first edition of the third book in the Adam Cranford series. It is called Dangerous Donkey. It can be purchased direct from with an ISBN 978-1-907250-06-4
It is in the pocket book format and has 260 pages. This one is action packed and sees our teenage hero sky diving over the mountains of Afghanistan to rescue a friend. Lulu also provide an ebook version.
In a few weeks I'll be releasing the book in a different format and it will be available through major book sellers such as Amazon and B&N. The new format will be slightly cheaper, reflecting lower printing costs.
This book follows on from Teen Valour and Company Mole.


UK NHS - Poor Management

I've just hear from a friend of mine in London about a Primary Care Trust. The interim managers (external contractors) have suddenly discovered that the local PCT is exceeding its budget. So now they are in panic mode, rapidly trying to slash costs, which if they'd managed them properly in the first place would not be a problem. They are trying to cut costs by reducing the number of nurses and also recruiting lower grade nurses where an essential vacancy occurs. For this particular clinic the funding was supposed to have been ring fenced.

The result is that the senior experienced nurses are voting with their feet and leaving what was a highly skilled and stable team that has taken years to build up. The management response, stopping any temporary staff needed to cover sickness/maternity leave, bullying to get the senior nurses to agree to unrealistic rotas and expecting nurses to work unpaid overtime to fill the gaps. These senior "managers" are paid four times what the nurses are paid. The managers have no clinical skills or experience of nursing.

It is ironic that this particular service attracts payments from other PCT for treating "out of area" patients. The "income" is twice the running cost of the Department. The whole service is funded by external commissioners and there are agreed service levels. If there are not sufficient nurses on site, the public will be turned away and their ailments not treated.

I say - fire the managers and not the nurses! Just another demonstration of the difference between managers and administrators. These people are definitely not managers, but probably can craft excellent powerpoint slide shows.