Like it does with most other things, technology may have just breathed life into the world of publishing. It started with a gentle nudge 10-15 years ago, when it gave amateur writers a platform (and audience) in the form of the blog; it has been building its artillery over the last two decades, with sundry e-book readers such as the eBookMan and Palmtree in the 1990s and the more recent iPad, Kindle and supporting software.
It has never been easier to be a published author. Writers can thank technology for the fact that when they have a story, they can just tell it. They no longer have to knock on publishers’ doors or have manuscripts languishing in a dusty office. And they’re not short of readers either. Tech-geeks devour book after bulky book on their neat reading devices and swear by them.
E-booking: Everytime someone clicks to buy your book, you get the money.
Which is not to say there are no problems in the world of e-books. Old schoolers adamantly refuse to let go of the book as they know it. They love the smell and touch of paper, the act of possessing a book in all its worldly and otherworldly joys, and baulk at the thought of replacing something as sacred with an impersonal Kindle.
But a whole new world has opened up for would-be authors.
Once you’ve got a ready manuscript (and as the box indicates, there is technology that tells you how to do that as well), the first thing to do is decide which format to use. Different e-book readers use different formats. The most popular being the E-Pub, which is used by the Sony reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and the iPad. Another format is the Moby, which was used by the older Kindle, as well as earlier Palm devices (in the form of the Mobyware from which you could download hundreds of books). “Then there is Topaz, the proprietary format of Amazon used in the latest Kindle, which comes with their own encryption and encrypts text with the serial number of your device,” says Kishore Bhargava, a Delhi-based technology consultant who has been devouring e-books for the last 20 years.
Step 2 is deciding what word editor you want to use. Again, this too is about deciding which format your word editing software will be compatible with. If you decide on the E-Pub, then it’s best to go for one of Google’s projects, Sigil. The Sigil is supported with E-Pub, and can be used for Apple, Linux and Windows. “Everything from your cover page to your acknowledgements, table of contents, chapters, can be worked out on Sigil, and it also allows you to import text (you can copy, paste your Word files), as well as pictures. It’s a really simple process; in fact the Sigil website gives you a tutorial on how to use it,” adds Bhargava.
Another useful tool for any would-be author, according to Bhargava, is the Caliber. The Caliber isn’t really a word-editing software, as much as an e-book library management software, and more critically, a format converter. “It can handle conversion from any format to any format. You can take a PDF and convert it into an E-Pub, or take an E-Pub file and use it for the iPad, and all of these are done seamlessly. So if I’m a writer, I can have a PDF file and convert it into an E-Pub,” he adds. Websites such as Amazon also have similar authoring tools on their website which you may choose to use.
If you want to publish with Amazon, for instance, here are four easy steps to the deal: 1) sign in (everyone who has used Amazon even as a buyer would have an account); 2) using the software we’ve listed, upload your manuscript on to the website; 3) decide how much you’d like to price your book for (and new and lesser-known authors usually price their books from 99 cents to $3.99, or around Rs45-185); 4) hit enter.
Bangalore-based Deepti Lamba had been blogging for five years before she decided to publish two full-length novels, Prime Cuts and Bronze Gods, online. “I am so comfortable with the online world that my first choice was to publish online,” says Lamba, who chose the Amazon and Sony eReader platforms because of their “simplicity and global reach”. “They’re available beyond the Kindle reader for PC and the iPhone.” Lamba’s next books are through traditional publishing, which she feels has “a key role in the marketplace as they provide an essential quality check and publicity management”. “For first-time authors, the publishing machine may not give them the necessary attention.”
There are, however, authors who have tasted regular publishing and discarded it for the online world. US-based author and strategy consultant Sramana Mitra published two books through a publishing house and then switched to Amazon because of the monetary gains she stood to make the e-way. “My publisher wanted my books effectively for free. This isn’t acceptable to me, since I happen to be the primary intellectual property generator in this equation. As such, I have declined their offer to publish my next book at a lousy royalty structure of 7.5%. In the US, and with Amazon, I make 70% royalty off my books. In India, I make almost nothing. I am a capitalist. I believe in getting paid for the value I create,” she says. Of the four books Mitra has done with Amazon, she has got royalty of 40%, (which is now being upped to 70%), and the two she did the traditional publishing way gave her the usual paltry percentage of 7.5-15%.
“From a situation when publishers would decide the price for your book and end up not paying you more royalty (if there were more sales), in addition to the price they paid upfront, things have changed vastly. Now, as an author, you decide the price, the publisher or even whether your book will be priced at all. Everytime someone clicks to buy your book, you get the money. This really is great turnaround for the publishing industry,” says Bhargava.
Binu John, author (Entry from Backside Only, Under a Cloud and Curry Coast) and vice-president of Think e-Reader, launched this month in India, says the world of e-publishing is a “great democratizer”. “The future of publishing is in the digital space, and anyone can access this space. Issues such as price, access, mobility will be critical issues in the future and e-publishing offers a universe of books,” he says. So go ahead, conquer the universe.
Writer’s (building) blocks
If you’re struggling to write your book, there is technology to help you there too
A website (www.readwriteweb.com) has put together all the tools you would need in the face of that fashionable literary disease: writer’s block.
First, to find a fascinating character name, log on to http://www.behindthename.com/random/ and select the nationality, gender and era you are looking for. Once you’re done selecting a suitably believable-yet-exotic name (we were given the Indo-Portuguese Avanti Doroteia Costa), you need, of course, a character to match. Fret no more and log on to Serendipity’s Character Generator (http://nine.frenchboys.net/chardetail.php). We’re told that the “good-natured” Avanti has “tan skin, black eyes, and dark brown hair. She is fat, with a small-featured, delicate face. She is unmarried and living with a friend.” Once that is covered, you need Serendipity’s Place Name Generator (http://nine.frenchboys.net/
country.php) because let’s face it, Delhi’s fog or cancelled flights won’t quite be the apt location for your next Pulitzer prize winner. And so, Ebalini it is. Then, to find out what happens to the tan-skinned Avanti living in Ebalini, log on to PlotShot (http://plotshot.com/). A handy Web 2.0 plot generation tool, PlotShot tells you how Avanti meets a selfish schoolteacher, both head to look for the holy grail and eventually kill each other. If this sounds too mundane for you, hit up Serendipity’s Fantasy Plotter, according to which Avanti, a mermaid raised by robbers, threatens a wise beggar. For everything else, there’s always your imagination.