Sunday 22 January 2012

iBook Author app - good or bad?

I read this article in the Metro newspaper last week, and found it online. For those of you who hadn't heard, a new iPhone app has been released that allegedly makes it even easier to publish books yourself. The iBook Author app lets you drag a word file into the app, and it does all the hard work by fixing the format and layout. Apparently users (note users, not writers) can fiddle with the layout and add photos and videos to their books. Oh dear me. While on one hand I applaud the recognition given to the e-publishing phenomenon, on the other hand I cannot help but groan that the writing process has been devalued to the extent that it's now simply the input portion of an app, in much the same way that anyone with the Instagram app now thinks they're a photographer.

Writing is not simply a case of chucking something together in Word, dropping it into an app and then making it available for sale through iTunes. Putting together a book should be a process that involves writing a draft, getting feedback from beta readers, and preferably having an experienced editor look it over. Hell, teach yourself the basics of HTML so you can code the thing yourself! I'm all for self-publishing, and I'm not saying that self published writers can't put out books - I've read some very, very professional self-published books that give the traditional publishers a run for their money - but I am saying that they need to look at the wider picture. Don't make the mistake of thinking that typing The End means your book is finished, and ready for public consumption.

The thing that bothers is me is that some people choose the self-publishing route for the better royalties and the greater degree of control over their work, and they're the writers who put in the effort, learn how to market and generally do quite well. They've weighed up the pros and cons of self-publishing, read up on it, and are determined to produce something that's just as good as, if not better than, something a traditional publisher might put out. Other people choose the route because their work as been consistently knocked back by agents and publishers alike, and instead of stepping back to look at what's wrong with the work itself, they just decide to put it out themselves. If that's you, then for God's sake get some feedback on why no one will take a punt on your project, and really work on it until it shines before you put it out there (unless you're one of those unfortunate writers whose work simply isn't classifiable, in which case you have your work cut out for you when it comes to marketing).

If you're hell bent on using this new technology, then how about this?

1 - Write the very best book that you can.
This should be a no-brainer, but don't just throw any old thing together and trust it will sell.

2 - Have trusted readers look it over.
I don't just mean your spouse or your mother. Have a set of beta readers whose opinion you trust, and who won't be afraid to tell you if something's not working. Other writers will provide invaluable feedback in terms of craft, while voracious readers will be able to give you their opinion in the context of what they read anyway.

3 - Get an editor to look at it.
You really do need an editor of some description, both in terms of typos, grammatical errors and other technical factors, but also in terms of flow, pacing and general storytelling. It's shocking how many e-books I've tried to read, only to find sentences peppered with bad grammar, repetitive words and typos.

4 - Spend some time playing around with covers.
If you're no good, ask the design department of your local college, enlist the help of a design-savvy friend, or invest in the services of a book cover designer if your budget stretches that far. People DO judge a book by its cover and just throwing something together in Photoshop will look terrible.

5 - Now use the app!
You will have a polished book that will be a credit to you, and will help boost the reputation of self-published books.


Chad Eagleton said...

Have you seen this about the fine print of iBooks program?

Eric J. Krause said...

Good post, Icy. Yes, I too worry about what this app will do to the name of self-publishers. As one myself, I agree with your points. The only thing I wish I had done differently is getting a professional-looking cover. I spent a good amount of time on mine, but I have practically zero artistic sense, so it's not professional looking at all. I'm proud of the inside, however, and to me that's what counts. If I ever use this app, I plan to continue what I'm doing on the inside, but pay an actual artist for the cover design. Needs to be professional all the way around. Good post!

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard Apple was getting in the self-publishing game.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard Apple was getting in the self-publishing game.

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