ADC Punch List

No, it’s not something that one makes before sitting down around the Thanksgiving table. From Wikipedia, a punch list:

…Takes its name from the historical process of punching a hole in the margin of the document, next to one of the items on the list. This indicated that the work was completed for that particular construction task. Two copies of the list were punched at the same time to provide an identical record for the architect and contractor. [citation needed]

Although, I suppose, a punch list could be used for nefarious purposes, Mandated Memoranda Publishing formulated and used one to develop and market our newest book: A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation. We refer to it as ADC.

We’ve become fairly practiced at generating Kindle books. We’ve reported on our eBook development for previous books: Tragic Wonders – Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder and Tiānmìng – Mandate of Heaven.

Earlier descriptions give more insight into the detailed development. As we’ve said before, your mileage may vary. Please consider this list as what it is: steps in a conditional and evolving process meant for adaptation and improvisation.

As an amusing aside, we helped surface a software bug in the Kindle Fire HD device’s Kindle Reader application (version 9.5_1190027510 (before Oct. 28, 2014) progressing to 9.5_1190027710 (as of Dec. 4, 2014)). According to some Amazon Customer Service representatives, it’s been widely reported from multiple users. I managed to send Amazon a device log to examine (using the Fire HD device’s help service). Additionally, one worker was able to duplicate the issue on her Fire HD device with her own book selection. It seems to occur generally with all Kindle eBooks.

We assured ourselves it was a device application issue by downloading our eBook (the AZW file) to our PC. Then we ran Kindle Previewer, version 2.923 in Fire HD emulation mode to check the book cover under midnight, sepia, and normal backgrounds. It rendered correctly and repeatedly in emulation mode. We also tested four randomly selected books we had purchased before the update (system update 4.5.1) was installed.

This testing followed running the original KDP generated MOBI file of our own book through a full Quality Assurance schedule using Kindle Previewer in E-Ink, Fire, and iPad (w/ side-loading) modes. We also tested the original KDP generated MOBI with the Kindle PC application and an AZK file side-loaded onto an iPad. Our book rendered correctly on all platforms but the Fire HD device. We almost halted publication because of the issue but went through with it anyway based on our intuition and experience.

What happens when the issue occurs is that any eBook’s cover (the JPG or GIF image at the book front) renders correctly when the selected background is midnight. It renders incorrectly when the background is changed to sepia or normal (white). The cover is surrounded by a background toned frame but the cover is either blacked (or whited) out or obscured by a dark semitransparent overlay.

The phenomenon is repeatable so long as the book is open. Once the book is closed and reopened, the issue changes. In this second instance, the cover renders correctly with sepia and normal background, but this time the midnight background obscures the cover.

One Amazon Customer Service rep said the issue was viewed as content related (i.e., the eBooks were at fault). She recognized the issue was a device application issue.

The best analogy I can give is this. Pretend you’ve taken a photo with your phone. You view the photo with the camera app and it looks good. You decide to improve how the photo looks so you open a photo-enhancement app on the phone. There, the photo is blacked out. Puzzled, you reopen the camera app. The photo is there and seems unchanged from when you took it. You close the camera app and reopen the enhancement app. This time the photo is whited out. Concerned, you email the photo to your PC where it looks just as colorful as it did in the camera app. Clearly, the enhancement app on the phone is at fault, not the photograph itself.

The photo represents all Kindle eBooks. The camera app and the PC app represent all Kindle Reader apps except the one on the Fire HD device. The enhancement app on the phone represents the Kindle Reader app on the Fire HD device. It is the Kindle Reader app on the Fire HD device that is at fault.

I hope Amazon Software personnel find and fix the bug (perhaps a test software artifact left active after product release?). Not resolving the issue could adversely affect all Amazon eBook sales this Christmas buying season. I wouldn’t want to be on the customer service staff if it is not fixed.

Obviously, these are our personal observations and opinions. EBook development seems never to be without excitement. Maybe it will be different next year? We resolved the previous bug we reported on our own (a rectifiable Windows ‘run with graphics processor’ selection for Kindle Previewer’s phantomjs_mobi82html executable file). Not so with this one, I’m afraid. As of yesterday, I think they still think it’s a data (or user!) issue. Such is the way of medium to large-sized software organizations.

POST UPDATE (12182014): Amazon has upgraded the Kindle Fire HD (3rd Gen) System software version to 4.5.2 and the HD device’s Kindle Reader to 9.6_1190216910. The reader was updated before the system software and appears to have resolved the cover rendering problem. This puts Amazon software in the ranks of Microsoft who actually fix their issues in a timely manner rather than letting them linger for weeks, months, and years.

Here’s the structured procedure we followed in the development and marketing of A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation. We’ve also added some details on our HTML generation. This is our punch list:

Fact find from recent KDP newsletters

Kindlefy ADC version 1 – 3

  1. Add ISBN
  2. Spell check and search for errant spaces
  3. Create HTML
  4. Prepare Two Structure Files (Check To Press archive)
  5. Create File Folders (Check To Press archive)
  6. Update Kindle Previewer (KP)
  7. Generate MOBI and AZK files using KP
  8. Examine with KP (use spreadsheet for QA)
  9. Examine on Fire, PW, and iPad
  10. Revise original and go to 3 or Finish

Revise Blurb (do word count based page estimate ~130 pages; ASIN assignment)

Author interview, ADC Status, and MM posts: ADC status, Author interview (hit themes: Economic divide, Jobs automated, AI demons, War, and Population), Character Interview, Excerpts (?)

Dry run finalization of manuscript and generation of PDF

Recheck KF8 on HW

Start KDP entry for ADC [DO NOT SUBMIT]

Receive Copyedited Manuscript back from Kirkus (due November 17, received November 12)

Finalize manuscript, generate PDF

Submit PDF for review

Kirkus review ($575 for rush – suppressible if bad)

Books and Culture (?) – delayed

Publishers Weekly Indie aka Booklife (free if accepted)

Red City Review ($40) – delayed

Kindlefy ADC version 4

  1. Compare new manuscript with existing HTML (Use KDP generated version)
  2. Transcribe deltas into existing HTML
  3. Spell check updated HTML for transcription errors
  4. Buff em> versus i> and em> punctuation issues leave well enough alone (also French sp. not perfect; issue with images and font size, too)
  5. Repeat general HTML check over (used IE)
  6. Compare PDF source with HTML in Word
  7. Update Kindle Previewer (KP)
  8. Generate MOBI and AZK files using KP
  9. Do Kindle Fire only QA check on KP version
  10. Run KP MOBI (KF8) through KDP to get testable MOBI file, folders with HTML [check book data; DO NOT SUBMIT]
  11. Generate AZK from KDP file
  12. Examine KDP MOBI with KP (use spreadsheet for QA)
  13. Examine on Fire, PW, and iPad
  14. Revise and go to 3 or submit to KDP

Investigate Bowker listing?

Submit ADC for sale via KDP [Submitted to KDP Wednesday Nov 19, 2014, Published on Wednsday, Nov. 19, 2014] [ADC Pre-order unrealistic (Up to 90 days early; By Nov. 18 for 28 release?)]

Submit application for Copyright to LOC (need publication date)

Buy book and push to all devices, check out background color on cover issue

Follow up with KDP and Kindle development on this Fire HD device issue (kindle app version 9.5_1190027510).

Submit PDF for review:

Red City Review ($40)

Books and Culture (Free)

Update Author Central as necessary

Solicit reviews from Vine and other Amazon reviewers (see Dickens’s works)

Use Goodreads Authors program posts and adverts

Solicit Amazon Singles

Update Blurb/Press Release with ASIN and Amazon page estimate

Update MM Blog posts with ASIN and Amazon page estimate

Create PR Newswire Press Release from Blurb and Red City or Kirkus Reviews (Times Square and don’t forget Twitter Leisure, $400~)

Solicit other Reviews (if Kirkus Review good)

Economist

WSJ

Here’s the HTML process:

On Word file (97–2003 versions seem cleaner upon HTML conversion)

Remove cover

Reinforce styles (especially in author bio)

Substitute en dashs for hyphens (to account for Kindle rendering)

Replace book signing image with jpg

Save as ‘filtered web file’

Name: Adolphus Writer

Title: A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation

On HTML

Simplify page breaks as per KDP guidelines

Move ‘<a> </a>’ out of ‘<h1> </h1>’ for chapter titles

Change ‘a name’ to ‘a id’ in all occurrences

Fix centered stars custom style

Remove excess formatting styles (i.e., those not used in manuscript body)

Clean Styles

Add ‘../image/’ to JPGs

Add text size: 200%, 150%, and 120% to centered title, centered subtitle, and h1 respectively

Add back font variant small caps to centered title

Make sure all styles have text indent as appropriate (0pt)

Remove color, text size (except as specified above), spacing

Adjust margin left to 0in instead of 0.3in as appropriate

Replace i> with em> except for foreign words

Assure punctuation italicized appropriately (see copyedited version)

Remove font color, text size, text spacing, lang[uage] references, and all span references in text

There you have it. I wish you well in your publishing adventures.

ADC Cover quarter scale, Copyrighted, All Rights Reserved

A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation Cover – quarter scale (copyrighted, all rights reserved)

A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation — A Status Report

We at Mandated Memoranda Publishing have been working on our third book: A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation. This is the old Dickens‘ favorite—A Christmas Carol—reimagined. We now face a monstrous egotist who questions the very premise of his existence and ours. Its genre is sci-fi but I prefer the non–conformist genre speculative fiction.

We’ve updated our book blurb yet again. We plan on posting an Author Interview, a Character Interview, and a Candidate Press Release in the coming weeks. We’ve managed to streamline our Kindlefication and campaign processes further and may try to summarize them in outline form (our punch list).

We’ve labored through three rounds of collaborative editing, read Lajos Egri on how to create drama, and are now Kindlefying (are you listening, Oxford English Dictionary?) the manuscript while we wait for the final copyedited manuscript. We’ll fold those edits in and generate our Kindle book.

We also plan to solicit paid reviews and, if those are fair to middlin’, pursue Amazon Singles status and reviews by two newspapers to which we subscribe. We may ask Amazon for Singles consideration in any case because there is no accounting for taste when it comes to reviewers (both our experience and our collaborative editors bear this out).

Our aim is to publish the Kindle book by Black Friday (or Cyber Monday depending on the vagaries of Amazon KDP). We’ll add the book to Goodreads and do promotion there. We hope to have okay reviews by mid-December. We’ll add those to the Amazon product page. Then we’ll do a press release with the reviews (if one of the review companies doesn’t offer first).

For those of you who follow our devotional postings (under the Ponderings category), we plan to add four more after we get the book online. We’ll cover: Sanctification, Fiery Trials, Assurance, and Salvation. We plan on starting book four: Who Shall Be God during December. Postings at that time will reflect our research. As always, we appreciate your ongoing support for Mandated Memoranda Publishing.

ADC Cover quarter scale, Copyrighted, All Rights Reserved

A Digital Carol – A Tale for Our Generation Cover – quarter scale (copyrighted, all rights reserved)

 

Self–Publishing – Love It or Leave It (Part 2)

A few days ago, I hit the ‘save and publish’ button on the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) website to launch Mandated Memoranda Publishing’s second book: Tragic Wonders – Stories, Poems, and Essays to Ponder. I found one glaring (to me) error in a chapter title very late in the quality control process. I left it.

This post is an update to a previous article on self–publishing. Several things are new with Kindle Previewer software and my process.

The Kindle Previewer (KP) version I used is 2.92. KDP no longer provides an emulated means to check your Kindle files targeted to iPhone/iPad. It generates a file with extension .azk. You’re supposed to sideload it to your Apple device to test it. I have no Apple device.

Additionally, KP 2.92 generates a fault when it produces the .azk file. Windows captures the fault this way:

Description  
Faulting Application Path: C:\..\Amazon\Kindle Previewer\lib\phantomjs_mobi82html.exe
Problem signature  
Problem Event Name: BEX
Application Name: phantomjs_mobi82html.exe
Application Version: 0.0.0.0
Application Timestamp: 4f7753dc
Fault Module Name: nvinit.dll_unloaded
Fault Module Version: 0.0.0.0
Fault Module Timestamp: 50ef1ca7
Exception Offset: 7520ce59
Exception Code: c0000005
Exception Data: 00000008
OS Version: 6.1.7601.2.1.0.256.48
Locale ID: 1033
Additional Information 1: 0a9e
Additional Information 2: 0a9e372d3b4ad19135b953a78882e789
Additional Information 3: 0a9e
Additional Information 4: 0a9e372d3b4ad19135b953a78882e789
Extra information about the problem  
Bucket ID: 4075841998

I sent a query to KDP about the fault and didn’t receive a reply once they figured I wasn’t asking for advice on my .azk file. This was a tad disturbing, to say the least. Then I went ahead and published Tragic Wonders. A friend with an iPhone purchased the book and said it worked fine. However, on 10 January 2014, I received a query from KDP about this issue. We’ll see if anything good results from the continued discussion.

Enough talk of Amazon’s problems. On to the new features of our process, some of which may be technical. We discovered and corrected some upsetting features imposed by Microsoft’s Notepad application. We used the text–align style attribute for chapter titles and table of contents (TOC) entries. We figured out some intricacies of nested .ncx file logical TOCs. We tried a different approach for page-breaks. Finally, we used Kindle Previewer to generate our last few .mobi files that we submitted to Amazon KDP.

We discovered through some disturbing errors in our .mobi files that Notepad was inserting non–printing characters. How could we tell if they were non–printing? It showed up in truncated logical TOC entries (generated by Kindlegen from .ncx entries) during the QA review. It also showed up in HTML TOC errors in the .mobi file text. Both errors occurred at the point where the lines in the files (.ncx and .htm) word wrapped.

It turns out this is well documented and has been an issue since Notepad first appeared. A workaround is: don’t narrow the Notepad application window so any TOC or logical TOC text word wraps. If you’ve done so and you have funny truncation error then you can retype those entries like I did (very tedious). A solution may be to use Notepad++ (but I haven’t, yet).

We used the text–align attribute to left justify chapter titles and TOC style entries. Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Guidelines only discourage specifying alignment for body text so it reflows freely.

We figured out some intricacies of nested .ncx file logical TOCs (and didn’t figure out other things). This is  genericized excerpt from our .ncx file:

ncx

I call your attention to the em space setting off Story Title 1 as an indent. This conveniently differentiated story titles from section titles. Turns out there is another way, but not all eBook distributors use that method.

Having had difficulty with page breaks in our first book Tiānmìng – Mandate of Heaven, we tried a different approach to page-breaks this time. Using <br> without <p> or other formatting to end chapters seems to work. This is an example of what we did:

htm

We discovered that KDP was using a file structure to read and assemble their .mobi file (the one you can download from them) after you submit your files to KDP. I remember reading about that somewhere in the literature but now I had a concrete example in the zipped HTML files KDP produced for download. I recommend you use those HTML files for further development once most of your bugs are shaken out (i.e., after final edits are long done and most formatting issues have been retired).

You’ll need to package your files into separate folders labeled: image, xml, and html. The image folder contains your image files. The html folder contains your .htm file (if you use one .htm file like I have, up to now). And the xml folder contains your .ncx file. The .opf file should reside with these folders either on the desktop or in your working folder. The files that come from KDP expect this structure (you can see the changes from your original files in the downloaded ones when you compare them).

We used the HTML files KDP generated to finish our development after we went a few rounds with Amazon KDP’s Kindlegen to shake out bugs. This led us to use Kindle Previewer on our .opf file to produce a .mobi file. Kindle Previewer invokes Kindlegen and even produces the verbose error report we use to validate our .mobi files. We submitted the resulting .mobi file to KDP and did final quality assurance (QA) testing with the .mobi KDP produced from our submittal. I plan on structuring my files using this new approach in future books.

After I completed my book, I happened on these two eBooks on Kindle formatting and process. The first, The eBook Design and Development Guide [Kindle Edition], by Paul Salvette (Author), emphasizes formatting using cascading style sheets (CSS). It does a masterful job of explaining in simple terms how to use them. The process that is described bypasses the MS Word to filtered webpage step by copying and pasting the original manuscript into a text file and proceeding from there. I think this approach avoids some errors while enabling others.

The second book, EBook Formatting: KF8, Mobi & EPUB [Kindle Edition] by Matt Harrison (Author, Illustrator), says it is purely concerned with formatting. Heavily programming oriented, I expect it will provide clues for me to format my next book more professionally.

I’m not sure why Amazon’s KDP Systems Architect or chief designers can’t put out a series of books on Kindle book development akin to Microsoft’s series. I’d be first in line to buy the reference (if it’s $9.99 or less, of course).