Jeremy D Brooks

Archive for August, 2010

Kindle 3 WiFi Review

by on Aug.29, 2010, under Reading

**updated 10/12/10 with landscape pic at bottom**

I got my Kindle 3 on Friday. I like it.

A standard ebook (native Amazon format) page.

As you may know, it doesn’t use backlighting like a computer screen or TV. The benefit is that it looks like a physical media like a book (because it basically is) and can be read in bright light. The downside is that you need good light to read, just like a physical print.

Considering that, even, the backplane (the “paper” underneath the “ink”) is darker than I expected, although the text is still pretty crisp and easy to read.

Navigation is a bit clunky, but that’s mostly a result of the fact that you’re not dealing with a PC-style display with a quick refresh and complex, aesthetic interface. Remember surfing the web around 1992, where everything was text and navigation was very cut and dry and basic? It’s like that. Here’s a better analogy: It reminds me of the navigation on a late 90s Palm Pilot: no frills, just text and click-click scrolling through options and delayed reactions to commands.

A single-sided PDF page on the K3

But, again, that’s because of the limitations of e-ink. If you don’t want an LCD, you pay in speed and aesthetics. And it’s really not that bad.

Page turns are slow, but still much faster than the Nook I played with last winter. Again, it’s e-ink.

It’s very small, somewhere between the size of a paperback study guide for Coriolanus my daughter got at Shakespeare camp last year, and a pamphlet called Ethical Guidelines for Nevada Politicians (although the latter contains only formatting guidelines for a shakedown letter and a yummy recipe for a gin fizz).

I tried it out with a few different formats, and learned something valuable: it doesn’t do well with static-sized documents. Which, if you’re considering your future as an ebook author, is critical.

It looks great for the native Amazon azw format (an implementation of .mobi, I believe). The text is clean, graphics, although grayscale, look fine and much sharper than older Kindles. The text–here is the important part–is interpreted, not just displayed. What that means is that the Kindle works like a web browser: it reads the text in an ebook and displays it based on the environmental variables set by the user: what size font, which font (standard, sans serif, etc), landscape/portrait, etc. The page is drawn dynamically according to those settings–which means that if on page seven you refer to “the diagram on page twenty five”, there is a good chance that said diagram does not, in fact, appear on page twenty five. It appears wherever it gets pushed based on the number of characters per page and the layout you’ve chosen.

A double-sided PDF. Publishers, don't do this. Ever.

Good part of that schema: no scrolling to read, adjustable font sizes for different readers. Bad part: you can’t refer to specific pages; also, if you use a generic mobi creator like Smashwords, you can’t create a table of contents with page numbers (mobi does support it, but it takes some work that Smashwords’ parsing engine does not support).

The K3 doesn’t fare so well with PDFs, which sucks because I have a ton of them and intended to finally get some of them read on my new toy. The problem is that the text is not parsable like a .mobi file–the Kindle treats the PDF essentially like an image, and in order to get a full PDF page on one Kindle page, the font is very small for a standard magazine/journal format. Very small. You can zoom in, but that means scrolling side to side and up and down to read which, because of the delay in drawing pages with e-ink, is not a good option. It’s distracting and basically unusable.

Landscape doesn't help. Still has to scroll vertically, which makes it worse.

Even worse: I have a couple of PDFs where the publisher chose to lay it out with two pages side by side on one PDF screen. These magazines are not just hard to read, but pretty much unusable on a Kindle. They’ll probably get deleted from my hard drive before I ever read them.

The lessons here: the Kindle seems to be a pretty good device for text, but, if you’re a publisher or author, you really need to consider a parsable ebook format like .mobi or epub to make it friendly for your readers. That blows your layout and graphics out (especially for magazines), but the alternative is bypassing e-ink readers and focusing on the smaller-but-growing iPad market. Or ignoring your ebook readers entirely and missing out on that market. Or limiting yourself to people who are willing to read PDFs on their PC–a small and shrinking market, I would argue.

(Note: click through the images for larger views)

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Jamie Eyberg

by on Aug.18, 2010, under Random Yappings

I was sitting in the Denver airport about four hours ago when I got the news via Facebook:

Jamie Eyberg and his wife were taken in a tragic accident this week.

This is tragic on so many levels.

When I took my first steps toward getting published a couple of years ago, Jamie was one of the first writers that I befriended on the internet. He was always unfailingly kind and supportive. When I took up Halloween prop-making, Jamie lent his experience as a craftsman on some of my builds.

He was a talented writer taken before his prime. We all know Jamie was well-published in horror and dark stories, and he was expanding his portfolio to include YA and had drafted a children’s book that I beta’d for him last Spring.

Jamie and Ann leave behind two young children.

As a father, I can tell you that the only thought more heart-wrenching than imagining your children passing on before you is the thought of your young children being left without you.

My thoughts are with Jamie and Ann’s families–especially their children–in an unimaginably difficult time.

It’s tragic and raw and it’s fucking terrible, and those are the only words I can think of.

The funeral home has a memorial page and guestbook for the Eybergs along with information on a memorial fund established for their children.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
-R Frost

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I Am Joe’s Guilty Conscience

by on Aug.16, 2010, under Random Yappings, Reading

I admit it: I am a total Kindle hypocrite.

I have been tearing Kindles for months. I like the device itself, but I strongly disagree with Amazon’s implementation of DRM and their clandestine information “sharing” system, wherein they can snoop and report on your reading activities: not only what you’re reading, but how often you read, what time of day, for how long, what you highlight, and the content of notes you leave. They also, apparently, have the ability (and, buried somewhere in the EULA, the right) to remove content from your Kindle.

When society collapses, this can be used to grind cornmeal.

I think we can all agree that ebooks aren’t going away–at least not until the Palahniukian apocalypse hits and we’re hunting bison in the Walmart parking lot with clubs and pointy sticks and 17 inch CRT monitors on makeshift trebuchets. I, as I announced last week, am ready to take the ebook leap in some form or fashion (most likely in self-pub form); it would be pretty dumb, I think, to jump into those waters without having a direct, first-hand sense of what kind of critter I’m trying to work with.

So, once AMZ announced the new Kindle units and the subsequent price drop, I ordered one. It only hurt for a second.

Why not a Sony or Nook or one of the low-end Borders units? Simple: Amazon owns the publishing distribution world. Enough said. I’d love to have one of each device, and I really feel strongly about having an epub-compatible unit some time in the future, but for now, Kindle 3 and its MOBI/PDF capability is it.

And I can’t wait. It isn’t slated to ship until the end of August (I ordered the same day as the announcement and got in on the first batch), but I’m really anxious to get my sweaty mits on it. I even have some magazines picked out to convert from paper subs to auto-push electronic.

Review forthcoming. If you come to Vegas, I’ll even let you touch it.

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Making the Leap

by on Aug.11, 2010, under Writing

I’ve been agonizing over this decision for months, but I have made up my mind: I’m going to self-publish my latest novel.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s not an easy decision, as any of you who have devoted months to a writing project can attest to. Self-publishing still, despite the changing economics of all traditional models, carries risk. The biggest risk, of course, being spectacular failure.

You’ve all considered it. You’ve studied the markets, you read the agent and publisher blogs. We all have friends in the industry and get the horror stories first hand.

Paperback houses are shuttering. Entire imprints are going electronic-only. Publishers aren’t putting tangible resources behind anything but high-potential bestsellers, celebrity memoirs, or narrowly-focused safe-bet YA.

Midlist authors aren’t being marketed by their publishers and, often, can’t even get a callback to find out why. Industry shakeups are leading to signed deals being dropped or midlist books being ignored completely. There are authors having to harrass and threaten publishers for their royalty checks.

In summary: the midlist is a wasteland, and the bestseller list is nigh inaccessible without a proven catalog.

I’ve been shopping this book to agents and directly to small market publishers for five months, and the few snippets of direct feedback I’ve gotten boil down to, essentially,either It’s too dark for my tastes or I won’t represent that because I have no idea how to sell it. And they’re right: it is a dark book, and it doesn’t fit nicely into a genre, and it will never reach a broad enough audience to be a NYT bestseller. But I think there is an audience for it.

I’m left with two options: wait it out until the markets change, or do it myself.

The risk, by comparison, isn’t massive. Yes, I’ve spent over a year of my life on this book; yes, I would love to be a full-time writer with enough income to justify making that move. But that’s unlikely, at least not for a long time–and that is regardless of if I publish and market this book myself or if I am given the opportunity to languish on a Manhattan midlist.

I’d rather only sell ten copies of this book than shelf it forever. At least this way, I’m directly in control of my own success or failure. That’s how I’ve always played it, and that’s how I plan on continuing.

Sour grapes? Not really…to be honest, as far back as a year ago, I fully expected to be typing this announcement at some point. I figured I had to at least try the traditional model. I did, and it didn’t work for me. It works for some people but, at this point, I’m not one of them. Self-publishing is many things, but Easy Way Out is not one of those things. More on that another time.

Over the next several weeks I’ll post my thoughts on the process and my progress. Who knows, it may be helpful to the next sucker who tries it. And, of course, I’ll have announcements, release dates, cover art, and contests…all in due time.

It occurs to me that it’s a fine line between liberation and self-banishment. Wish me luck.

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