Saturday, July 10, 2010

Published by an aggregator

A few weeks ago, I'd never even heard of this newfangled word "aggregator". It sounds like a good chemical name for the kind of product that thickens soups and sauces (such as potato starch, which I use constantly). Apparently, modern usage has hit upon this excellent term to designate websites that bring together, for a specific reason, data from a multiplicity of other Internet sources. For example, Apple is using this word to designate a handful of selected websites whose role consists of channeling in all kinds of budding authors who would like to see their work published as iBooks to be read on the iPad. Today, in the case of my novel All the Earth is Mine, I find myself collaborating with such an aggregator… whose name has an American sledgehammer charm:

I wrote the final version of my novel using the sturdy Pages word-processing tool… which doesn't do much, but does it well. (That's the same friendly software I use for my genealogical monographs.) I tried vainly for years years to find an Anglo-American publishing house or literary agency that would deign to read my novel. I still don't understand why these tentatives were doomed to failure (it had nothing to do with the quality of my writing, which nobody ever got around to examining), but I've noticed that there's some kind of a Berlin Wall between the Anglo-American book-publishing world and our homely French maisons d'édition (publishing houses). For example, as recently as yesterday, I was amazed and furious to discover that it's impossible for a French resident such as me to buy Apple iBooks from England or America. Once again, I don't understand why… but it surely has something to do with a book-based cultural conflict between the New World and France. In any case, in the context of such a crazy war, I have no intention of enlisting as a soldier and donning proudly a uniform, as I would surely be mowed down stupidly in the trenches by the first blast of shrapnel.

I finally decided that so-called electronic self-publishing might be the best (indeed, only) approach for getting my novel into print. Last year, for months on end, I tried to urge readers of this blog to download (free) and evaluate a PDF version of my novel. Curiously, that tentative earned me zero feedback… which simply means, I imagine, that readers of Antipodes prefer blogs to novel, which is understandable.

At the beginning of June, I posted the following question in an Apple forum dedicated to the Pages tool:

Please point me to explanations concerning the transformation
of a Pages document (a novel) into ePub format for the iPad.

There were few reactions, and even fewer useful replies. There was even a massive dose of unadulterated twaddle from kind individuals who've made it their personal mission to reply rapidly, summarily and superficially to anything and everything that appears on the forum. [Hi Peter, Chris and Tom.] I had the impression that people who write stuff using Pages don't really intend to get themselves published. On the other hand, I became aware of the existence of a community of talented individuals (mostly women), specialists in page design and typesetting, who use the sophisticated Adobe InDesign product (which I know and adore; it's the page creator's Ferrari). But that's not really my kettle of fish. I have simple novelistic words waiting to get published. I'm not faced with the challenge of designing ads or magazine pages. So, I rapidly put a personal cross on that approach. (Do English-speaking people use that metaphor about putting a cross on something, or am I using Frenglish?)

Meanwhile, I discovered that it was not at all arduous to transform manually my novel into the celebrated Epub format fit for publication by iBooks. (The adverb "manually" doesn't really mean manually. It indicates merely that, instead of calling upon a hypothetically magic conversion tool, I carried out all the nitty-gritty conversion stuff myself, based upon my understanding of the various ePub/iBooks technical specifications, protocols and constraints… which I now master ideally.)

My attempts at creation of an ePub version of my novel were highly positive. The final product exists, and it looks good when viewed either on the Adobe simulator [download] or on a real-life iPad. Besides, I offer Antipodes readers a free copy of Earth.epub. Just give me your email address.

For the moment, I'm awaiting developments in the relationship between me and my aggregator. From an aesthetic design and typesetting point of view, the present state of my novel at Smashwords is frankly catastrophic. The book looks as if it has been typeset by a low-IQ monkey or an "intelligent " robot. Naturally, I've expressed my alarm to SmashWords. And I've volunteered to help out, if necessary. Normally, SmashWords people should know more about ePub and iBooks than I do. But the major question remains: Is SmashWords prepared to correct and beautify their ugly robotic version of my novel before (and if) they propose it to Apple? Let's see what happens…

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