Kindle Fire Review

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My Kindle Fire finally made its way over here to Italy.

First impression: it’s alright, as far as these things go, but not something I’d “fall in love with” like the regular old Kindle.

The Kindle is a single-purpose reading device.  Sure, you can view web pages with it in a pinch, but it’s not the most pleasant experience.  The advantages it gains by doing one thing really well, though, are impressive: very slim, lightweight, and an amazing battery life.  For whatever reason, I tend to get anxious over whether my devices are running out of battery life if they’ve been running at all (I don’t like the gas tank in the car to be below half full, either, for that matter), and the Kindle is really nice because it doesn’t stress me out that way!  Also, the eInk screen is vastly superior for reading compared to any LCD screen.

In contrast, the Fire has about 8 hours of battery life, which isn’t bad, it’s just not amazing, like the Kindle.  For an LCD screen device, I like the screen, resolution, and so on.  But it’s not eInk.  And it’s certainly a heftier package than the Kindle in terms of its weight.  So for reading, the Fire can’t really hold a candle to the Kindle, with one exception: color images.  For most of what I read, this isn’t that big a deal, but one area where I think the Fire is clearly superior to the Kindle is for children’s books.  Nice, color images, and a touch screen are a killer combo to make the device much more accessible for children’s stories, many of which simply would not work very well on a regular Kindle.

Naturally, all the extra weight, lower battery life and LCD screen are made up for by the fact that in many ways, the Fire is a much more capable device: web browsing is pleasant with it, you can watch videos, and listen to music.  Sure, you could listen to music on the regular Kindle too, but the interface is pretty raw.  So for “media consumption”, which is probably what Amazon wants you to do, the Fire is a pretty good device.  What with two small children, and a business to run, though, I don’t have much time for “media consumption” of the TV show or movie variety, and I can listen to music on my laptop or phone.

As someone who wants a device to use actively, rather than passively, though, my initial feeling is that the Fire is in something of a no-man’s land between my Android phone, and my laptop.  With the former, I can take pictures, quickly write emails in English and Italian, read email and web pages wherever I am via a data plan, and access any application in Google’s Android market.

Which is where another problem with the Fire puts in its appearance.  Amazon, rather than collaborate with Google, took the open source Android system and made their own modifications to it, and do not include any of the super-useful Google mobile applications on the device.  No gmail, no reader, no maps.  I knew that when I bought it, but the presence of those applications is sorely missed on the Fire.  Also, the app store that Amazon provides is fairly limited compared to the regular one available for my phone.  Ultimately, this leaves my mobile phone as a more useful “on the road” device.

With no camera, or even a microphone, I can’t take pictures, or, something that I personally would have loved to be able to do, use the Fire as a ‘skype device’ for video chats.  The device’s shape and size would have made it perfect for that.

Of course, I knew most of these things before I purchased one, and went ahead anyway, because I want to make sure our customers’ books look good on the Kindle Fire, especially when Kindle Format 8 finally rolls out.

However, I think otherwise I would have waited for version 2 to come out next year, which will doubtlessly be a big improvement.  For reading, I would continue to highly recommend a regular Kindle, with my preference being for either the basic one, or the one with a keyboard.  The Kindle Touch, with visions of grimy fingers swiped across the screen, sounds like something that would bother me.  For the price, the Kindle Fire is a nice bit of hardware, but the problem is that it just doesn’t fill a need I have.  It’s not as convenient as my mobile phone, and not nearly as efficient for doing anything useful as my laptop.

Kindle Format 8

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This is an interesting bit of news I thought I’d share with the world:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000729511

“Announcing HTML5 Support in Kindle Format 8”

  •  CSS3 support
  •  Floating elements
  •  Fixed layouts
  •  Text on background images
  •  Embedded fonts
  •  Numbered and bulleted lists
  •  Drop caps

In other words, rather than the very limited format we’ve come to know and… if not love, at least make peace with, we’ll be able to do pretty much anything that’s possible with a web page – which is quite a bit.

In some ways, that’s a good thing.  Some kinds of books really need more than the current Mobi format can deliver in terms of tables, charts, fonts and images.  Textbooks especially, tend to be very laborious to translate into something that works well on the Kindle, because they tend to have lots of sidebars and tables and images and other things that require some thinking about and serious work to make them function well on the Kindle.  With the new possibilities offered by a more modern HTML and CSS, it may be possible to do some more interesting things graphically.

With that power, though, comes responsibility, and, I’m worried, “enough rope for people to hang themselves with”.  Many people don’t realize it, but one advantage of the very simple formatting that the Kindle currently has, is that even if you spend a lot of money, your book is not going to look much different from one done simply and competently, because there just aren’t that many things to change.  In other words: your self-published book is going to look as good as many books from major publishers.

With fancier formatting options, this may break down some – you might be able to get that “pixel perfect” layout (if, of course, you forget about different devices for reading), but it may also require a lot of work to get it just how you want it.

Another issue is how they’re going to support this on older Kindle devices.  The Kindle 3 has a fairly decent browser, so I’m sure it’s possible for it to handle this new format, but it remains to be seen exactly how it will work out.

Indeed, without the new Kindle Fire, and the new tools, we can’t actually say much with 100% certainty, with the exception that this is going to be a major change for the Kindle formatting and conversion industry.

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

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As part of LiberWriter’s marketing efforts, I read various forums to keep up with what authors think about this, that and the other thing, and where it’s constructive or useful, put in my two cents as well.

There’s an interesting discussion on the KindleBoards’ Writer’s Cafe right now:

http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,83185.0.html

It made me wonder…is the relative ease and accessibility of digital publishing allowing some authors to put up works they perhaps know are not ready for prime time, with the thought that it can always be fixed later? But in the meantime, let’s make the rounds of the blogs and ring up some sales…

This is a  very interesting discussion because it highlights one of the big differences between traditional publishing and digital.  With a traditional book, you’d better get a lot of things right for your first print run.  The cover, editing, formatting… everything, because once all those books are out there, you can’t go out and fix them.  With digital publishing, you can go back and fix things as you find problems.

We’ll come back to that in a minute, but someone on the forum mentions that software is the same way, which is certainly true.  The reason is purely one of economics:

It’s possible to build software in a very solid way, but it is extremely expensive compared to a more incremental approach, and most people, voting with their wallets, will opt for the cheaper software that’s “good enough” even if it’s not perfect or has a few bugs.  The other tradeoff is time: one person with a given amount of time can either release the system they’re building to see if people are actually interested in the product, or spend 10 years perfecting it, at which point it will be out of date, and have no hope of earning back the time sunk into it.  In other words, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”, or as the old saying goes: “fast, cheap, good: pick any two”.  For a lot of software, then, a more fluid style of development makes sense: it may be aggravating for users who find bugs here and there, but it keeps costs down, and it also allows developers to better concentrate on what people are actually interested in.  Better to release a feature early, and then discard it if there is no interest, than to spend months making it absolutely perfect, and *then* discover there is no interest.

Back to the world of writing, I think a similar approach is not mistaken for self-published authors, especially those working on their first book or two.  If you put it out there and see that it’s just not a subject that’s of interest to people, or the writing or story are so bad that it’s just never going to sell, why bother fixing it up?  The phrase that comes to mind is “polishing a turd”.  Chalk it up to experience, and move on to a new project! Keep writing and your persistence will pay off, but sometimes you need to know when it’s time to let something go.

If, on the other hand, you see some interest in your writing, and receive positive feedback, at that point you can confidently start investing in it – get a nice cover, spend some money on editing, and of course, make sure the formatting and conversion are good!

Naturally, the exact balance can be tricky to get right: if you do want to kick off your book’s launch with a big splash, you’re going to want to make a good first impression, and should therefore invest more time and money up front.  If you’re content with a soft launch to see how things fare before going all-in, you can hold something in reserve to invest when it seems like it’s going to be a worthwhile use of your resources.

Providing Free Review Copies of Kindle Books

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A common problem for authors of Kindle books is how to give out free copies of the final version of their book for review.

At LiberWriter, we’ve created a solution that I think people will find useful.

Once you’ve bought a workspace, and your book is ready to go, on your documents page, there is now a link to press to create a review copy.

That link pops up a form that asks you for the name of the person who will be reviewing the book, and then generates a custom book just for them, with their name inside it and in the title.  This turns out to be a fairly effective, cheap, and pain-free method of ensuring that a book only ends up with who it’s destined for.  If it were somehow leaked, it’d be pretty obvious who did it.  Aside from that, though, the book is exactly like the one that you’ll publish via Amazon’s KDP.   You can then email the newly created mobi file to the reviewer.

Or, of course, if you implicitly trust the reviewer, you can just use the ‘download’ link, and send the person that copy of your book.

We just rolled this feature out, so if you’ve got any comments, questions, or ideas how it could work better for you, let us know!

Formatting a Screenplay for Kindle

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A persistent problem in the world of kindle formatting has been how to format a screenplay for the Kindle.

At LiberWriter, we were lucky enough to have Dave Trottier as an early customer.  Known as “Dr. Format”, he’s an expert at the nuances of how a screenplay ought to be written, so we were happy to work with him to ensure that his screenplay came out looking just right, given the limitations of the Kindle platform.

He was kind enough to write an article about the experience, and a technique he found that worked for him, reproduced here:

How to Prepare Your Script for Kindle

By Dave Trottier

These days, screenwriters want to get their script out any way they can. I have found that it is relatively easy to prepare a script for Kindle using LiberWriter.com.

Your first step is to register your copyright of the script. Don’t do this unless you are now ready to market the script, because the copyright displayed in the title page will “date” your script.

Your second step is to convert your script from Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft to an RTF file. With Final Draft, use “Save as.” With Screenwriter, use the “Export” function. (If your script is already a Word Document, then there is nothing else you need to do.)

In your new RTF file, either delete all of your transitions or, if you absolutely must have a CUT TO or DISSOLVE, move it flush to the left margin. If you leave it flush right, it will create problems for you as a Kindle (mobi) file.

Now, avail yourself of the services of LiberWriter. It’s one of the best value sites I’ve found where you get plenty of help from their Support department, if you need it. I don’t get a commission for saying this. Realize that if you get stuck anywhere in the process, you can go to the User Guide, which is clear and helpful. If you still can’t solve your problem, you can email their Support department.

It might help to see an example of a finished product. In that case, consider purchasing a copy of A Window in Time from Amazon Kindle at $3.99. You will see how I handled each section of the e-book (actually, e-script), and what the final format looks like. But you don’t need to buy my script to be able to format your own.

While in LiberWriter, you may want to create some kind of brief introduction as your first chapter. Depending on your purposes for publishing your script, that chapter might include your logline and/or a brief synopsis. Of course, you may not want an introduction at all.

You’ll notice that the standard font for LiberWriter (and Kindle) is not Courier 12-point. I recommend you use the Kindle default font to make your script more readable on the Kindle. However, if you absolutely must use Courier, just pick LiberWriter’s “Typewriter” font.

The next chapter is for the script itself. Just copy and paste your RTF file. When you view your script in the LiberWriter window, you will see that it doesn’t look right. At that time, email Support, tell them you have downloaded your script, that you are affiliated with Dave Trottier, and that you need LiberWriter to adjust the file so that the indents disappear and there is spacing between paragraphs.

Once you hear back from them that the task is done, there is only one formatting change you need to make: dialogue blocks. Because it is next to impossible to create correctly formatted dialogue blocks that are pleasant to read on a Kindle, I have created a new formatting style for dialogue blocks.

Here is what a dialogue block will look like in the LiberWriter window once Support has made your requested adjustments:

JOHN
(desperately)
I love you, my darling.
(tipping his hat)
Frankly my dear, I’ve changed my mind.

Here’s how you want it to look:

JOHN (sarcastically): I love you, my darling. (tipping his hat) Frankly
my dear, I’ve changed my mind.

Here is how you make that happen.

First, you move everything in the block together, as follows:

JOHN (sarcastically): I love you, my darling. (tipping his hat) Frankly my
dear, I’ve changed my mind.

Then, you select the entire block. This is very important. Once selected, click on the “Increase Indent” icon, and the entire block will be indented just a few spaces. If you have several speeches in a row without any narrative description, you can select all of them and then indent. Take care that you don’t accidentally select and indent any action (narrative description).

Yes, yes, I know that this will be a somewhat laborious process, but it won’t take as long as you think. Besides, it allows you to polish the dialogue one last time. Make sure that any changes you make are also made in your master script in Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft.

Once done, you will download your new e-book/e-script, which will be saved as a Kindle (mobi) file in your Downloads folder, assuming you use Windows.

Finally, you will then open an account at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Follow their directions for creating your book (e-script) and uploading your mobi file. If you don’t have a cover image, Kindle will prepare a simple one
for you automatically.

Good luck and keep writing!

So there you have it: in the end, after trying various solutions with different levels of spacing and indentation, “simple” wins!

For those not using LiberWriter, the indent function simply adds the following to paragraphs: style=”margin-left: 40px”.

Dave describes it as a “laborious process”.  Since we like to save people from boring work at LiberWriter, if we receive further interest in converting screenplays, we may look at additional options for automating some or all of the process in order to make it quicker and easier, so get in touch with us!

You can find more of Dave Trottier’s advice on his web site: http://keepwriting.com/

Why Kindle Font Sizes Are Variable

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Many people, especially those with strong visual and design skills  (a group I am sadly not a member of), have opinions on how their books ought to look, and the idea that on the Kindle, they can’t specify exactly what font to use is a bit disconcerting.

The reason you can’t, is of course, because the user can specify what font and size to read with, so it’s best to leave the user their default, rather than interfere with it.  This was really brought home to me when reading the comment of a former elementary school teacher of mine:

If your eyes are not what they used to be, the Kindle DX is for you! (I can make the print any size that I want and the screen has been improved so I am able to read longer without strain).

For people whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and yet remain avid readers, the Kindle is giving them a new lease on being able to read.  As someone who loves reading myself, I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to go from gradually finding reading more and more tiring, to being able to read easily and comfortably again.

Every Book is a Startup

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As a “computer guy” coming to the world of publishing, I read a lot about the world of high technology and startups, so I couldn’t help but notice this book/experiment: Every Book is a Startup

He describes the project in more detail here: http://toddsattersten.com/2011/07/my-summer-project-every-book-is-a-startup.html

Briefly, he’s going to write the book a bit at a time, and people who have purchased it will get updates “free”.  He will also change direction depending on the feedback he gets.

So far, it’s pretty brief, and seems a bit more geared to the author’s area of expertise in business books than, say, fiction. However, for $5, I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it grows with time.

In particular, I think it’s an interesting way of taking advantage of the fact that eBooks are much more flexible than paper books.  With a paper book, it would be extremely expensive to ship an update every month or two (although of course you could simply call it a “magazine”!), but an eBook is a much more fluid vehicle for publishing.  Perhaps one negative aspect we may see with this in the future is that it’s harder to declare something “done” if it’s very easy to update.  In practice, this doesn’t seem to be an issue with books we’ve published at LiberWriter so far.