Friday, January 9, 2009

Kindle Takes a Dive and Publishing Quality Books

I have been surprised at how much I use the Kindle, and the kinds of issues that I find. Some of the issues are good, some are bad. First, let me start out on a positive note. The other day, I was paying for something and managed to drop what I had in my hands and in a reflex action, drop my Kindle as well. I quickly picked it up and looked at it. It looked fine at first glance and was showing what I had been looking at. I finished up at the register and sat down to take a closer look. It turned out that when hitting the tile from about 4 feet up it had popped part of the case open. A slight bit of pressure snapped the case closed again. If you look really closely, you can see a small bend in the seam. I was quite happy and figured that the Kindle took the fall quite well. Then, I tried to turn the page. To my horror, the UI did not change. At this point, I remembered that the Kindle did not require any power to keep the UI looking the same. I was now worried that it was completely dead. I tried the lock/unlock keys. That did not work. At one point, it occurred to me that I might be able to hold down the lock/unlock keys. When I tried this, nothing seemed to happen. Then I noticed that the menu slider was growing up the side. I let go of the keys and it went back down. This time, I pushed the keys down and waited until the line made it to the top. A few tense seconds later, and my Kindle was perfectly happy and working normally. I do not, in any way, fault Amazon for those tense moments. I am quite happy that my device managed to make it unscathed through the drop. Modern product engineering for tech toys seems very good compared to the older products I remember.

As I have previously discussed, some of the books available on Kindle are well formatted and some of them are not. I have looked a little further in a few books that I have read. I have also looked a little bit online. It appears that the Kindle eats source code when processing contents. I think it is the Kindle's built in support for HTML at play. Anything that looks like an open tag is suspect. In one of the two books I have just completed: Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (Robert C. Martin Series) I noticed that many sections of code would not compile. I started to pick up the pattern pretty quickly. In source code, you have to be very careful to tell the Kindle to not apply formatting to it. If you don't, you will get odd results.

In section G33 at the end of the book, there is a piece of code:
if(nextLevel tags.length)
I believe this should have a '<' but it was stripped out:
if(nextLevel < tags.length)
This is not a big thing, but when you start to encounter tables and images that you cannot zoom, hyphens where they should not be, and missing pieces of code in a book about clean code, it starts to get a little frustrating.

Since I am working on a book that I would like to publish and have available soon, I started to look into what it would take to get the book formatted correctly on the Kindle. I did find this quick overview of Kindle Formatting. I guess this answers one of the questions that I had earlier. Why aren't all books available for Kindle? It is probably really easy for most companies to publish their books to Kindle. Making the book look good on the Kindle might require some effort.

I have also just finished reading "Aiming at Amazon", which is a self publishing guide for publishing books for the Amazon market. This was a really good book. I look forward to finding out if the tips and techniques still apply today. Did you know, that if you are updating a print-on-demand book, it will show up as "out of stock" while you are proofing? Has anybody out there setup a self-publishing operation?



Aaron Shepard said...

Jacob, I just updated "Aiming at Amazon." Please see my Publishing Blog for details.

Jacob Taylor said...

I was wondering about that. When your print on demand book was "not in stock" for a long time, and I had finished reading it, I thought you might have been going through a revision cycle. Thank you for letting me know!

Jacob Taylor said...

Updated version of "Aiming at Amazon" purchased. Two questions:

1. Why can't you take consulting gigs? Conflict of interest?

2. If BookSurge is offering 55% of the list price returned to the Author, how would you compare the results of self publishing? I am trying to convince some co-authors to let me create a publishing company using lightning and return them the same amount by publishing myself until the costs are recouped and then return them more (it is going to charity).