The problem with iBooks
Last Tuesday I set myself a challenge.
I decided that I was going to write and publish a book in a week.
It’s all thanks to iBooks Author being so lovely and simple to use. All I had to do was knock out a few thousand words of inspired genius – and then upload it to the Apple Bookstore.
So on Sunday night I achieved the first part. I finished all the words. I’d even had a bit of a spanner thrown in the works when I was talking to Al and Jules at St Lukes about the book and they pointed out another section that should go in.
There was also the problem that iBooks Author got more turgid the more I wrote. My book isn’t long – only about 80 pages – but it’s crammed with interactive stuff. It got so slow that I couldn’t have any other apps open and I still spent three quarters of my time looking at the spinning beachball of eternal frustration. The finishing touches to the book were done through gritted teeth and potty-mouthed outbursts.
Regardless, I finished writing my masterpiece in 5 days. That gave me 48 hours to proofread it and upload it to the bookstore. That sounds achievable, right?
The Apple experience stops here
I made a big mistake. I assumed that the Apple experience would continue all the way through the process. I assumed that there would be a nice simple process where you upload the book, you add a description, you set the price and you enter your bank details to get your cut of the cash.
It’s nothing like that.
And I was slightly sickened when I slammed head-on into some massive obstacles.
And for those of you thinking about doing your own iBook, here’s a wee bit of insight.
As soon as you hit ‘publish’
There’s a lovely happy arrow in the menu bar of iBooks Author. It was the one button I was so looking forward to clicking on. That meant that I’d finished my book. This was a big moment for me. It opened up my browser and give me a screen with two nice simple options.
I knew which category I fitted into. This was going to be alright.
I clicked on ‘Create a Paid Books Account’.
Here we go!
This is where Apple wave you a cheery goodbye and leave you to fend for yourself.
I found myself thrown smack into the firing line of some pretty nasty bullet points.
I’m dyslexic – which may be unusual for a writer – so this kind of thing scares the living crap out of me. It’s just a nasty grey block of official text to me. It takes real effort to get into this stuff.
I took a deep breath and tackled the first bit: the system requirements.
I’m OK. I’ve got a pretty new Mac.
I pass with flying colours.
Next bit: the content requirements.
At this point I find out that I need ISBNs for all the titles I intend to distribute. Blithering arse! I know nothing about this. I’ll come to this later.
I also need to be delivering the book in ePub format. What’s that? Does iBooks Author do that for me automatically? More confusion. Let’s return to this.
Now onto the Financial Requirements.
Holy blinkin’ mother of Bob! I need a U.S. Tax ID? What? Really?! I have enough issues with the British taxman – and now I have to compound that with entering a contract with Uncle Sam’s penny pincher?
This all seems like a freakin’ nightmare to me.
Time for some research.
What the hell is an ISBN and how do I get one?
I at least understood what an ISBN number was. It’s the unique ID for published books. But I didn’t have a clue how to get one.
Hello Google, how you doin’?
It seems that there’s only one UK company licensed to hand out ISBNs. It’s Nielsen:
As you can see, their site is so bad that it doesn’t format properly on my Mac! The menu in the top left goes over their logo. And the headlines in the right hand boxes go over the lines.
Not only is it a design-travesty, but it is a mass of text with no clear way forward. And a table at the bottom informs me that I’m going to have to buy a batch of ISBNs – the minimum batch being 10 of the things for £118.68. OK. I think I may be able to stretch to that.
I bookmark the page and decide to move on to the next point.
What is an ePub format and how to do I get the book into one?
I look at the export options for iBooks Author. Nope. I can export as a PDF. I can export as text. And I can export in iBooks format. No ePub.
So I click on the Help menu and select iBooks Author Help. There’s got to be something there. I type ‘epub’ and get no results.
I’m forced to do more research. And after half an hour I work out a kind of workaround.
I can export the book as a PDF and then use an app called Calibre to convert it.
Great! And Calibre is free. Woohoo!
The problem is Apple adds all sorts of crap to the PDF. Like “ iBooks Author” on every page.
And my two column text layout confuses the order of the text. All the words are there. They’re just in the wrong order.
Close. But no banana.
And then I find an app called Sigil that allows you to edit your ePub file.
I’ve started to tinker with that. It looks pretty good. But it’ll take a lot of work.
I may be better rebuilding the book in Pages as a linear text document with added images – and then using Calibre.
Still trying to work that one out.
Am I now going to be chased by the US taxman?
I then look to see how easy it will be to get a Tax ID from the IRS. And try to find out my tax obligations if I do that.
I find this:
Another slab of official grey text. This stuff terrifies me!
I do, however, notice that it’s free. But it’s not immediate.
Gaaaah! Is there an alternative?
Let’s go back to Apple’s hail of bullets. Somewhere at the bottom it offers you an alternative if you don’t want to go through this system.
Great. Because I don’t want to have to address any of this nightmare crap.
There’s the option to go through an Apple-approved Aggregator. Sounds intriguing.
I click on it and get this:
Here’s a list of companies who can handle much of this ugliness for me.
I look at the European options.
The first is called Bookwire. It’s all in German. And it’s just a form.
I use the Google translate feature and it tells me next to nothing about what they do, what the deal is and how long it will take.
I try the second option – Immatériel. Clearly not a British one again. It gives me this:
I may be dyslexic but I still shudder at the spelling of ‘plateform’. Surely, if you wanted to attract business from the UK, you’d want to check the spelling of the headlines. My confidence is shaken. But at least it’s a better option than the German one.
I may go with this.
But I’m still not sure.
Or I may see if some of the American options will accept me.
It’s all part of the journey I’m on right now.
So is there a conclusion to this?
I feel that Apple have really let me down here. And probably more so because I’ve gone to so much effort to write a book!
What exacerbates the situation is that the process is topped and tailed by the characteristic Apple awesomeness. I started off using iBooks Author which (although it had my Mac on it’s knees) is very lovely and intuitive. It then finishes in the lovely Apple Bookstore.
These idyllic environments make the bit in the middle – where Apple leave you in a hostile wilderness with no tools or help or advice – all the more horrendous.
I know I’ve been naïve with this. If I was a ‘proper’ writer, I’d have just gone through a publisher. But the wonderful thing about the internet is that you don’t need the middle-men any more. I publish my own podcast. I publish my own thoughts here. It’s easy to publish your own music and films. That’s the way forward!
I’ve looked online and not found any decent help with the situation. So I’m sharing it with the group. And when (not ‘if’) I find a way around this, I’ll share it again.
Well, that’s kind of taken the wind out of my sails about my book announcement!
At least my second book will be easier!