iTunes Producer ERROR ITMS-9000 calibre_bookmarks.txt

For our first test of direct Word docx to ebook conversion via Calibre and of publishing in the iBooks marketplace, we have been working with a tiny little novella called Runaway.

Everything about the process went pretty smoothly until we tried to upload the book for sale via Apple’s iTunes Producer.  The book popped into review and then out again with a validation error:

iTunes Producer error itms-9000

This was particularly odd to us because Apple’s validator is said to be based on a public validation tool that had already ok’d the same file: Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — Calibre conversion

(Third post in a series that begins here.)

So, let’s move on to the actual ebook conversion of our little novella using Calibre.

First, a word about Calibre itself. The website says that Calibre “is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books. It has a cornucopia of features . . .”

It’s exactly the range of features — ebook library manager, news feed reader, ebook converter, etc — that can make Calibre a bit bewildering to those of us who just want to use its GREAT ebook conversion tool. It will really help you, as you use Calibre for ebook conversion, to remember that, from the software’s and the developers’ perspective, conversion is just one feature among equals. The developers who contribute to this open source product have clearly invested an enormous amount of time and attention in this feature. But it doesn’t get top billing in the user interface (UI).

Frankly, the whole UI is a bit unconventional. Literally unconventional. It doesn’t follow the conventions of the Windows interface — no File/Open menu item to be found. It doesn’t follow the conventions of the Mac OsX interface — the menu bar has none of the standard File, Edit, View, etc entries.  On the other hand, the product is absolutely consistent in look-and-feel across platforms — the Mac and Windows versions are identical.

Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — generating a clean docx file

RunawayCoverAmazon(Second post in a series that begins here.)

I’ve got two files that Mom mailed me when we first agreed to publish these two short works in the Kindle and Nook marketplaces.  Both are .doc files, probably from Microsoft Word 2003, definitely from before MS Word 2007 when Microsoft switched to the .docx format.

There are two options for converting the files to .docx. If I thought the formatting in the files was super clean, my guess is they’d be equivalent.

  • Import the .doc to my Google Docs account, letting Google convert it to the native doc format, then export it as a .docx.  (But note that this will only work for relatively small files; there’s currently a 2mb size limit.)
  • Open the .doc in a current version of Word and resave it as .docx.

I’m going to do the latter.  Since I think the internal formatting for these two documents needs to be cleaned up to make Calibre’s conversion go more smoothly, I want to work with them in Word anyway. However the process I’m going to describe should work equally well via Google Docs for a short manuscript.  In other words, if you have an old .doc file (or even an old WordPerfect or Ami Pro file) and don’t have a current copy of Word, don’t despair.  Free and open software can come to your rescue.

Please do try this at home.  Please do NOT try this on the only copy of a file that you have.  BEFORE you start this process, make sure you have made a safe copy, other than the one you are about to work on. Pretty please? Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — overview

Simpler than ever but still not quite ‘just a click away’


Runaway — on sale in iTunes!

In June 2013, with no fanfare, Calibre, the wildly popular, free ebook management and conversion tool, added support for direct conversion from Microsoft Word docx to ebook formats. This is Big News for self-published ebook authors and for small, specialty publishers alike. It is not getting the attention it deserves.

If you’ve never tried converting a Word document into an ebook, it would be hard to convey how complex and frustrating the process has always been.

On the one hand, you have the absolutely dominant word processing package’s standard file format, docx. On the other hand, you have the two dominant ebook formats, epub and mobi, that, between them, let you publish your book in all the major marketplaces (Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, and Google Play).

How could there NOT be a solid, simple way to go from docx to epub and mobi?  But there has not been.

You generally had to choose from a variety of bad conversion options that fell between two extremes:

  • Submit your Word file directly to the Amazon Kindle Desktop Publishing (KDP) dervish and be appalled by the resulting ebook full of apparently random formatting variations. Even if you could ultimately placate the dervish with small, iterative tweaks to your doc, you ended up with a manuscript good only for Kindle, not Nook or iBooks or Play.
  • Export your text from Word (or InDesign) to HTML, thoroughly scrub the output to remove extraneous styles and classes and other cruft, add a bit of restrained CSS, then use a tool such as Calibre to convert to your ebook format(s) of choice. While this process could result in a great product, working with raw HTML files and CSS is not necessarily attractive to Every Writer or even every small publisher.

But now, with Calibre’s new feature, you can take a well-formatted Word doc, hand it straight off to the “industry standard” conversion tool, and generate well-formatted files suitable for submission to the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Play marketplaces. Continue Reading →

Ebook versus PDF

This post is the first in a series we have planned on “ebooks for the specialty/technical publisher”.  If you would like to know more about the series, would like to be notified when new posts are available, or would like to suggest specific topics we should cover, please email us at


In this post, I take a look at the readability trade-offs between using PDFs and ‘real ebooks’ (.epub and .mobi files) to distribute your technical publications.

Executive summary:  PDFs give you great control over layout and can be opened on almost any device.  Ebooks require the phone or tablet user to have and know how to use an additional app but can increase the readability of your content dramatically on a small device.  If you expect your content to be accessed frequently via phones, versus tablets and laptops, you probably want to be publishing ebook versions of your material.

Why bother with anything but PDFs?

Using PDFs to distribute books, pamphlets, and field guides electronically has some huge advantages:

  • Adobe Reader is not just free and easy to install.  It is as ubiquitous as any piece of software in the history of computing, available across all modern hardware platforms and operating systems.  Everyone from Great Uncle Henry to Big Boss Betty has it and knows how to use it.
  • If you are a professional book designer, you already use PDFs as the camera ready copy you send to your printer.  What could be easier than using exactly the same file or, maybe a slightly lower resolution version, as the electronic copy available for download?
  • Even if you are not a pro, PDFs have become easy for EveryWriter to produce.  You don’t need a full copy of InDesign or even Acrobat any more to ‘print’ your pamphlet, brochure, or full-length-novel to PDF format. Macs do it.  Google Docs does it.  Even Microsoft Word can now do it.

In the old days of, say, a year or two ago, when you could count on your audience reading your eBook on a desktop or laptop computer, PDFs were clearly the way to go.

But then came the mobile revolution. Continue Reading →

Spanish ebook title garbled — problem solved

We generate our ERG2012: Quick Lookup ebook using a combination of Ruby scripts and the Calibre ebook-convert tool. The last step for each ebook is to launch the ebook-convert.exe from a Ruby script, passing it a long list of commandline options.

This process was working well for us right up to the point where we were began to generate review copies of the Spanish language version, GRE 2012: Guía de Referencia Rápida. We could generate the ebook just fine and it had all the right contents but the embedded title was garbled: GRE 2012: Guía de Referencia Rápida.Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 10.59.21 AM

It took me a long time to track down what was really going wrong. The title was right in the localized text file it came from. It looked right in the printed version of the commandline that we were logging. But it was wrong in the title text embedded in the book.

A word of warning: Gory technical details lie beyond this point. If you aren’t interested in automated ebook generation or multi-lingual ebooks or how Ruby kernel methods work on Windows, you may wish to turn back now.

Continue Reading →

Picking five things

Seth Pick Four Workbook PackFor the last eight years, I have worked as a freelance programmer on a product that is currently known, by the few who know it at all, as PVS.  I started with the product when it was the up-and-coming, eponymyous product of a software company named Ardence, run by my friend Richard Davis.  When Ardence was acquired by Citrix Systems in 2007, my contract was picked up along with the code.

Through four major product releases, I’ve been a remote member of a team that slowly nudged the product’s code up the scalable, enterprise-ready evolutionary ladder: from single-threaded to multi-threaded, from Access to Sql Server, and from being a stand-alone product to being a component integrated within other, larger Citrix offerings, which is how a product that is used by many is known by name to so few.

The amount of work varied from quarter to quarter but averaged 20-30 hours a week. For all these years, my Citrix hours have been the big rock that had to fit first into every day and that any other work had to fit around.  My Citrix contract has been ‘the day job,’ funding and enabling all the investment in our app product portfolio.

But as of Friday, May 31st, my last work order expired, I emailed my goodbyes, and I turned out the lights on all my remote connections to Citrix machines real and virtual.  I may need to go back to consulting to make ends meet, but not right away, and definitely not for a few months.  I’ve promised myself at least one full-time Summer of Product.  And, tempered with an appropriate amount of trepidation, I am really, really looking forward to the experience.

Citrix could not have picked a better time, from my perspective, to rationalize the resources being applied to PVS.  I frankly don’t know if I would have had the courage to jump ship right this minute but I am extremely grateful for the push. Continue Reading →

The ‘day job’ — a gender issue no more

There’s a remarkable amount of discussion going on, just now, of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Sandberg is COO of Facebook.  Her book attempts to explain why women have stalled out in their march on the executive suite and “offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.”


In this discussion, I’m much closer to the view of Jody Greenstone Miller.  Miller is the author of a recent Wall Street Journal piece:  The Real Women’s Issue: Time — Never mind ‘leaning in.’ To get more working women into senior roles, companies need to rethink the clock.  She correctly, in my opinion, points out that many great women don’t lack the skills or aggression to advance in large corporations.  They ‘stall out’ or bail out, rather than “‘lean in’ because they don’t like the world they’re being asked to lean into.”

Amen — but . . .

But even Miller is missing the boat somewhat when she frames this discussion as primarily a gender issue.  Women working for large corporations may have lead the charge on big-corporate work values for a few decades but they are hardly alone any more.  That movement has become much deeper and more pervasive.

Why isn’t anyone talking about the fact that the same ‘problems’ that have impeded women in some workplaces for the last few decades are exactly the same ‘challenges’ that Gen-X and Gen-Y employees of both genders are presenting to employers?   Continue Reading →

Why run a contest?

SigFigPosterWe have two days left until the end of the ‘game idea’ contest we have been running over on  I’ve always figured that we would get the bulk of our entries, if any, in the last two days so I’m eager to see what rolls in by Friday.

For now, let me just say that, if you know a chem student with even half an idea for a game, you should tell him or her that the odds of any valid entry winning something are, well, quite good.

But why run a contest in the first place?  We’re in this business to make money not to give it away.  So what, specifically, was the contest intended to accomplish?  And how do we know, when we are done, if the project has been a success?  What are we trying accomplish? Continue Reading →

Facebook ads: No heartbreak for Facebook itself

I haven’t gone back to Facebook advertising since I wrote my heartbreak piece about it over a year ago.  I may try them again soon to promote a couple of new, non-phone-app products we have in the works.  In the meantime I came across this remarkable infographic.  It says:

  • nothing about how well the ads are working for the advertisers,
  • a lot about how increasingly mobile our readers and users are becoming, and
  • an enormous amount about how well ads are doing as revenue generators for Facebook.
One bit really caught my eye:  Globally, users spend 9000 years a day in Facebook.  Yikes! Continue Reading →