An iBook achievement

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 2.30.27 PMApple Inc has such a gift for making small incremental achievements seem like huge victories. Our latest victory? All three of our ERG editions (English, French, and Spanish) are now for sale in the iTunes iBook marketplace.  It’s really just a small huzzah but it feels like a big deal to me.

Frankly, each of the ebook marketplaces presents its own set of challenges to the small publisher or self-published author.

Apple makes everything hard. Or, at least, it sure seems that way as you get started.  Only part of the toolset you must use to create and administer your ebooks in the iTunes marketplace is browser based.  The other part has to be installed on a local machine and that machine has to run OsX. So you have to own and use a Mac in order to publish an iBook. Doesn’t that seem just a bit narrow minded and self-serving to you? It does to me.

Most folks also have some trouble with the very strict epub validation step that Apple puts each epub file through. We did. But I have to say that the work we did to clean up the three ERGs so they would pass validation — and there was rather a lot of — also made the books more readable. I try not to complain, even about Apple, when the result is an improved product for our mutual customers.

Perhaps the oddest and most unexpected obstacle that Apple throws in your way is their review process and how long, in calendar days, a book takes to pass through it. I don’t know how review works for music — what would Apple review after all? — but for iPhone/iPad apps and for iBooks there is a manual review step for each submission. Right now, the review time for iBooks seems to be running about a week.  Apps take a bit longer, more like 10-14 days. The app author at least gets progress emails her product moves through the process: accepted and waiting for review, in review, published (or, glack, rejected). The iBook publisher gets nothing, no email, no blinding flash of light. You just have to keep checking back and eventually, the book gets through the review step and is on sale.

Oddly, for iBooks, Apple apparently also has a human being review each change to the description text.  When we finally got our French ERG edition finished and published as a Kindle book, we ran a two week ‘celebration sale’ for the English ebook and dropped the price from $3.99 to $.99. We had no trouble changing the iBook price from our iTunesConnect console. But we made the mistake of trying to add a line to the top of the book’s description text that said something like “Special temporary price of 99 cents will return to regular price $3.99 on <date>.”  It took at least a week for the new description to make it through review and show up in the marketplace.  And then, when we changed the text back, the line about the special price kept showing up for week after the price was back to $3.99.  Slightly embarrassing for us.  But, worse, think about Apple’s cost structure if they really are paying people to read each change in market text and decide if it is ok or not. It boggles the mind.

Amazon’s tools for publishing Kindle ebooks have their own idiosyncrasies. For example, a simple edit of the market description text will change your published book’s status, in your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Console, from Live to In Review. And while it is In Review, you can’t  get back in to view that books ‘details’, much less re-edit them. So you’d better hope you didn’t make a mistake. And, thank goodness, being In Review for this reason doesn’t actually take your book off sale; it stays on sale with the old description till the change gets rolled out.

Also, now that Amazon provides the ability to make and maintain an Author Page, which which is a great help in managing your brand, some odd things happen.  For example, if you’ve written a description for your book on the Author page, that take precedence over what you can see or edit from your KDP Console. If you forget that rule and edit your market text over in the Console, you may wait a long time for the new text to show up before you start trying to figure out what happened to your change.

But any complaints I have about Amazon’s tools these days pale in comparison to how awful they used to be.  Seriously, the unpredictable behavior of Amazon’s Console used to be enough to make strong women cry.  Slowly, over the years, they’ve invested in their tools and, to a large degree, there has been what one of my mathematically inclined colleagues enjoys describing as a “monotonically increasing” trend towards improved functionality.

The same cannot be said for poor benighted Barnes and Noble.  Their old publishing interface, Pubit!, certainly had its weaknesses. An awful name to start with. Some dumbness: you had to enter your (hopefully the same) author description text into the book details for each book separately. A weak implementation for the online-viewer they gave you to review your book one last time before publication. But, really, Pubit! was an ok tool.

Then the B&N technologists seem to have fallen prey to the second system effect and created a replacement for Pubit! called Nook Press.  It is intended to not just replace the old console for managing your B&N ebook titles but also provide true ‘authoring platform’ like . . . what? MS Word with collaboration features? iBooks Author in the cloud? Maybe what they really had in mind was a better epub editing tool than the open source Sigil project.  While testing with a simple manuscript, we did observe some nice features for direct editing of the epub version of your book.

For too short a while, B&N ran the two systems in parallel.  We tried Nook Press for publishing the English ERG and weren’t surprised to see a young tool have trouble digesting such a big and complex book. So we happily fell back to using Pubit! and figured we’d give NP a few months to mature and then find another reason to try it.  The Pubit! site said the two would be merged ‘some day’ but we thought that meant B&N would give NP time to complete a shakedown cruise and was ready for prime time. Disastrously for them, they did not do so.

Within just a few weeks, any attempt to visit the Pubit! website was redirected to the Nook Press site and we were being forced to try to use the new toolset. Or, more precisely, B&N made it clear to us, for the time being, that it would be a waste of our time to try to publish the Spanish and French versions of the ERG as Nook books. Will we try again sometime? Probably.

But first I need to wrap my head around the Google Play console for ebook publishing. That’s the next toolset mountain to climb for us. And it looks as if it has some tricky pitches of its own.

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