2/19/09

Building Better E-books

Why don't we have tons of dynamic, interactive, visually stunning e-books?
 
The potential has been there for years. It has been there since project Gutenberg launched its e-text repository. It has grown with the first experiments in hypertext fiction and interactive adventure stories. The development of programming languages and scripts, advances in graphic design using HTML and CSS, all opened the doors to possibilities for building better books. Yet when I downloaded Calibre the other night and finally catalogued all of my 1,016 e-books, I was struck by how little evolution we've seen in the book. Most were plain text. A few had pictures.

At one time websites were just text on a page with a link or two. Later pictures were added to pep things up. I don't need to tell you how far web pages have evolved since the early days. But why didn't e-books grow with them? Why are e-books still text on a page, with rarely a link or a picture? Isn't it way past time?

I think it's because change comes from the bottom up. Web pages evolved because the development was simple enough that a lot of people dove right in and added their own ideas, creating new possibilites. If we'd left page design to the programmers, we'd still have e-book looking web pages. Programmers used to lecture that HTML was never meant to do all the things people were trying to do with it. We did it anyway and the tools evolved to meet our demands.

If we want a better book, it has to begin where all great ideas and innvations begin  -- in the hands of creative people experimenting with possibilites, pushing limits because they don't know they aren't supposed to be able to do that.

I think we're finally turning the corner and heading down the road to better e-books. I ran across an e-book this week, that stunned me with its beautiful design, its prolific links, and its lovely images. Of course it turned out to be a work centered around blogger's thoughts and was compiled by a web designer. Download the book and you will discover a treasure chest of links to blogs you'll love reading.

Free download of: The Quote Effect

For e-book design to take off, we need inexpensive tools in the hands of people with the desire to explore. At Teleread.org  I stumbled on new potential, another door opening possibilities for the book, and it places all the tools in your hands. I'd link to their post but the site is down.  I found the following comment on that same tool at a comicbook artist's blog:
“I think we recognized the huge potential of myebook about thirty seconds after first being shown it,” said Orang Utan Comics Studio’s Managing Editor and Young Gods’ creator, Ian Sharman.
Strangely Drawn


Myebook is a free e-book creation site. They supply the tools to make and publish e-books that are visually striking and interactive. Read that last part again. Yes, I said interactive. And as if that wasn't exciting enough, there's a contest coinciding with Read An E-Book Week:

 From now until March 14th we are running a competition on the myebook publishing platform to see who can create the best example of an e-book, making use of the ability to place a host of multi-media assets inside your e-books. Once you've created your book, add it to the 'E-book Week' community.myebook.com will judge the entries and the winner will be added to their carousel of books on the front page of their site, for one week, between the Universal Pictures book and Capcom.
Read an E-Book Week - myebooks

One of the things I love about these e-books is that they are embeddable so that people who love your books can easily plug them for you.  The first example I've embedded is full of interactive tools to beat writer's block;  the second is beautiful.

Myebook - Wordlube - writer's block removal in 5 days - click here to open my ebookMyebook - String and the River of Souls - click here to open my ebook

So what are you waiting for? Build a better e-book  in honor of Read An E-Book Week.
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2/15/09

Bond Blogs

My Blogging Bondage Chef, Jacques Bond, is cooking up a Mind Candy special over at the Otherworld Diner Today. He offers some treats to tempt your creative mind.

2/12/09

Blogging Tips for Beginners:Linking

There would be no WWW without links. Links make the web, one page to another, one idea to another, one person to another. There should be no blog post without links.

Not only do links take your readers to more information about a topic, they provide breadcrumb trails for readers at those other sites to find you. In the blogger world they call this trail a trackback. I know, we all groan and roll our eyes over terms but this one actually means what it says, it provides a track for readers to follow back to your blog from the one you quoted.

In Flock linking and quoting are geek-free processes. To link a word, highlight it and click the button with a picture of chain links. Then type the address of the page you want to link to. I always open a second tab in my browser and go to the place I'm linking so I can copy and paste the exact address, no mistakes. Make sure you delete the http:// that is pre-inserted in the form if you do this.

If you want to quote text on another site, highlight, right click and choose "blog this". That's one of the coolest features of Flock. Often when I'm surfing, I'll see something I might want to include in a post later, so I use the blog this feature and Flock opens the composer, gives the post the proper credit and link back. All you have to do is click save.  You can do the same with pictures.

Be sure to follow copyright rules of fair use and never include pictures that aren't specifically tagged as free to use. Open Stock Photography is a good source of open source images.

While we're on the subject of links, don't forget comments. Comments accomplish a couple of things:

They let bloggers know they've been heard. It can get pretty lonely out there, Feedback keeps your favorite bloggers going. It also makes a link back to your site, so people who are interested in the same topics as you can follow your comment trail back to your blog. Search engines love and reward links because readers love and follow links. So throw out those breadcrumbs and people will be able to find you.

Always thank your commenters with a quick little note of response or maybe a comment at their blog. You'll be surprised at the wonderful friendships that can grow out of those breadcrumbs you scatter.


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2/11/09

Blame it on Plundered Hearts


You don't remember Plundered Hearts? It was the first Romantic Text Adventure Game. And while I'm not all that crazy about games, this was more like a story you could interact with.Plundered Hearts put ideas in my head. No, not fantasies of a handsome man carrying me off for wild passion. It made me dream of finding a book you could read over and over and it would tell you a different story every time.

I haven't found one yet, but I think that is the reason I feel so driven to play with what I write. I spent the last week buried in the final stage of a project I started working on a year ago. I only meant to blog a few erotic poems and learn a bit about blogging when I got started. I got lots of encouraging feedback from readers. One thing morphed into another and before I knew it I had the makings of the first flash romance novel: Owned

I debated quite awhile as to whether I would enter it in Romance Divas' E-book Challenge. It's not interactive. It is not a game. It's just not the usual way to tell a story.

I reread this interview with Amy Briggs on her experience writing Plundered hearts and what inspired her. It gaves me hope that one day I will figure out a way to write a never-ending story, or at least a story that doesn't end after the first read. I think the answer lies in piecing together small stories that tell a larger story and then taking those larger stories and piecing them into a bigger story than that. It'll be like a Russian nesting doll, only you read it from the inside out.

 If I'm going to read the Babushka style story I envision, I'll probably have to write it. If I want to discover a different way to tell a story, I have to take the risks, color outside the lines, and see what happens. So I put Owned together, converted it to a pdf ebook, and submitted it to the Romance Diva challenge. It's a free read and you are welcome to share as many copies as you wish.

I don't know how this project will land in the mind of readers, but I hadn't really understood what form I was aiming for until I put this together. I've been writing, building a body of work around a Babushka style without realizing this was the direction I was headed. This little e-book romance crystalized the ideas, provided a scale modle, and gave my goal a name.
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Owned

My flash romance Owned (which you can get free by clicking this download) is now available as part of the Romance Diva's 2009 E-book Challenge.
 

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2/3/09

Romancing the ARG

Move over Joan Wilder.

Can you picture  two romance novelists sneaking in to rummage through the patient files in a psychiatric hospital? Sound like a plot for a novel?  It was real even if the hospital wasn't. There was so much stuff in Zach's files, Kelly and I decided to tackle it together. She divvied up the tasks. Kelly was supposed to handle anything in French. I was supposed handle everything else. We haven't found anything in French yet.

The contents were creepy. I'm not much of a phone person (I use maybe 8 minutes a month on my cell) but when Kelly offered to be in charge of looking at all dead body pictures if I would call the dead people's phone numbers, I decided I could overcome my phone phobia.

Now the phone number we found in Zach's files is probably not for a dead person. I have no idea what might happen on the other end of that line when I call the number. If this were a TV detective show, I could watch someone else make the call. If it was a book, I could read about someone else thinking about making the call.

But this is immersive fiction, it's on me. No one makes up my cover story for me. It's real. I'm standing there with a phone in my hand, palms sweating.   I might get an irritated recpetionist, a cop, a psychiatrist. I might get a dead person. I was hoping I'd get someone who only speaks French.



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2/2/09

Blogging Tips for Beginners: Which slice of the pie do you want?

It's the most important decision you make as a blogger. It should be the first decision you make. If you look at any popular blog site you know which slice of the audience pie they are after, which theme their blog posts revolve around. Over at the Otherworld Diner they deliver their goal as bloggers on page one:

Our staff is a collection of paranormal romance authors with one thing in common (besides a love for pie) -- we dish up our paranormal with a sprinkle, a splash, or a heaping helpin' of humor and wit. Come in and have a seat. The coffee's hot and the blue plate special is out of this world!
The Otherworld Diner

A recent theme on pie was an excellent example of blogging around a theme. Each contributer posted their own take on the subject of pie and some aspect of writing:


 
What if the hero is a shape shifter? What if he shape shifts into a black bird? What if the story takes place in the Middle Ages? What if your heroine is a baker? What if she bakes him in a pie? Dang it, she cooked the hero. Not good. OK, so the birds are supposed to survive the “baking” process but the hero will still not be a happy camper when he breaks free of that crust. Moral of this story . . . be careful who you bake in a pie, you could end up eating love of your life. *G*

View Original Article


Same theme different take:

The subject of pies scared me a little right from the beginning. Then, when my coworkers posted yummy recipes, I seriously considered panic. Not that I don’t cook, mind you. I do. The thing is, I write by the seat of my pants, and I tend to cook the same way. I sort of figured posting a recipe for apple cobbler that started, "take a bunch of apples, core, chop, cook with some sugar and cinnamon until soft…" well, you get it. Not too helpful.

Then I realized there was another "pie" I’d worked with just a couple of weeks ago: The Pie of Life.

View Original Article

Not all blogging themes need to be as out of this world as Otherworld. 

Elle Amery does a once a week theme: Elle Amery: Elle Amery's Grammar Tip of the Week She tells her readers: "As both a writer and an editor, I can tell you that it’s much easier to edit and revise someone else’s work than to write perfect prose."

Or if you're interested in writing a fiction blog, check out Alice Gray's  samples of her lovely erotic writing: Aliceblackandwhite  Alice's passion for the sensual is clear in every detail of her site.

The theme you choose will be as unique to you and your genre as your favorite kind of pie. You should be passionate about the theme you choose. I'm passionate about immersive fiction and I don't think anyone reading my blog will miss that fact.


So now you have the Flock browser we talked about last week. Pick a theme, plan your article, click the little blue quill pen in the browser toolbar and start writing your first post.

You configure the editor with your blog settings under the tools menu. You can either save the draft, or hit the publish button and your new article will post.

All the quotes and sources I included in today's post were made using Flock's one-click "blog this" feature. No geek skills required. More on quoting and linking(as essential to blogging as veins to a circulatory system) next week.
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