Techmology part two: a new (if shaky) hope

I’ve been turning over some pixellated stones on my quest to fix my Kindle ebook’s contents page. The link at the bottom goes to a website by someone called Dark Neon, and I have no idea who they are or what they do. What I do know is that they’ve posted a very handy explanation of what might be going wrong with my ebook’s contents page, and they’ve included a method to fix it. So I’m going to try this tonight, in the hopes that my epublishing career can finally get back on its feet. But you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Let me explain:

The problem
My contents page isn’t working. My ebook’s finished in all but the contents page, because I couldn’t get the contents to appear on my Kindle when I was uploading it online through the program MobiPocket. See, a Kindle reader gives you the option to jump back to the contents page to search for chapters in an ebook, by having each chapter set out a bit like a weblink to a particular page. Trouble is, I use Internet Explorer 9, and apparently this and MobiPocket don’t like to work together.

The solution
Uninstall Internet Explorer 9 from your computer and install Internet Explorer 8 instead. At least, this is the theory. I’m going to test it out tonight, and I’ll let you know what happens. I don’t know the code-based intricacies of it, and to be honest by brain can’t grasp them, so I can’t pretend to have much interest in how it works. All that really concerns me, as someone wanting to be an author, is that I can get my book right.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to using MobiPocket to turn your Word file into an Amazon ebook. The table of contents links, how to flag the contents tags up so that they appear in a Kindle document, and other exciting formatting issues have been covered in depth by some very admirable and knowledgeable people. And learning all that stuff is as accessible as starting to type g-o-o-g… into your web browser, really. But I haven’t seen very many guides to this particular contents/web browser problem, so I thought it might be worth making this link known to people if it’ll help. Best of luck if you’re having the same problem, and I’ll let you know how it goes…

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ebooks are my future… but where the hell do I start?

I’ve been a trolley boy, a supermarket cashier, a cleaner and a copywriter. I’ve tried out gardening and labouring, I’ve cleared ice and snow for a borough council, and now I’m a proofreader. But my ambition lies outside the 9-5 job. It’s taken me twenty-six years to figure out my goal, but now that I’ve realised it I can’t think of doing anything else with my life. By twenty-eight, I intend to be a full-time author.

Let me clarify from the start — I’m not an authority on epublishing. I’m not selling enough ebooks to quit my day job yet. But you have to start somewhere, and being informed is the best start you can get. If you happen to be starting out in epublishing too, or even if you’re not, I hope you might find something in this article that can help in some small way with your own ambition. Here are just a couple of points, based on a few months’ research into making a living as an author:

1. Don’t waste your time with traditional publishers. I submitted my fiction to a few publishers a while back, and was lucky even to get a letter of rejection. Most didn’t bother to reply. Far from seeing this as an exercise in tenacity and determination, I gave it up as a bad job pretty quickly. I know what it feels like to be banging your head against a brick wall, and this was one of those times. The vast majority of articles I’d read pointed at the suspicion that traditional publishers play it very safe these days, and don’t like taking chances on writers they’ve never heard of. And even if you do win the lottery of getting signed to a traditional publisher, there’s no way they can match the royalties you’d get from self-publishing your books as ebooks.

2. Head for Amazon. Whatever platform you’re on, be it PC, tablet, smartphone or Mac, you can download the Kindle app to read Amazon ebooks. As far as I’m aware, Amazon’s competitors can’t make such a boast. Amazon has the vast majority of the market share in the ebook world — so unless you’re particularly concerned with covering every available online outlet, or giving your books away for free, it seems that Amazon is definitely the way for ebook authors to go.

3. Engage with other people who may be interested in reading your stuff. And I don’t just mean your ebooks either — I mean your blog posts, your social media updates, and any other outlet you prefer to use to make yourself known online. For example, I’m a big fan of columnist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker. I buy his books and watch his programmes because he regularly posts free content online in his Guardian articles. I’m not a devout follower, but on the occasion that I fancy reading a non-fiction book, or reading an online newspaper article, his is the first name I go to because I trust in the quality of his free, regular writing.

Many successful ebook authors I’ve looked up seem to admit to the same mistakes — that they’ve ploughed massive amounts of time and money into promoting their books in paperback form: approaching bookshops, attending signings, investing a lot of money into advertising. But they all seem to have turned up the same formula for success in the end — converting their paperbacks to ebooks, and building up trust and engagement with people who want to read their stuff. They build trust and engagement by keeping a good, quality blog — so that people who subscribe to their mailing lists are curious to read their ebooks too. I might be trying to make it as a writer but I’m a reader too, and this works for me — if someone’s free online content appeals to me, then I’m happy to pay for their writing too because I know I’m going to enjoy it. Crucially, the author’s desire to sell their ebook hasn’t made the sale. It’s the author’s desire to connect with a readership, and vice versa, that has turned a ‘sell’ into a mutually beneficial transaction.

 

Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. I hope some of this was some small help to someone out there, if they’re starting on the same path as me. I’ll keep an eye out for any other trends like this in epublishing, and if I come up with enough stuff to write another article about, be damn sure I’ll put it up here for you to read, in the hope that it’ll help.

Who knows how to work techmology then?

I moved to the country about a month ago, because I don’t like living in towns. There’s less risk of me being run over here — a thought that often preys on my mind, ever since I was diagnosed with chronic fecklessness.

Such cack-handed bemusement extends to many of the technological aspects of modern living. Take my ebook for example, Tales of the Strange and Grim. The stories are done, the book’s on Amazon, but it currently lacks a working contents page. This relies on links and tags working properly, the intricacies of which currently escape me (but return periodically to startle me and send me fleeing back to my cave). I’m trying to fix this as quickly as I can, but it’s a bit like giving a starving lemur a tin of peaches and a can opener. The want and the need and the tools are there, but I’m fucked if I know what to do about it.

My Windows 8 and my Internet Explorer 9 are apparently too new to handle the contents creator of an older program by the name of MobiPocket, which I used to upload my ebook to Amazon. I believe I need to replace my new Explorer with an older, crappier one. But doing so doesn’t seem to work. If anyone can shed light on this predicament, your chirp-uppery would be very much appreciated.

I’ve tried repeatedly to fix this, but Windows hates me. I’ve tinkered with it and tried to persuade it. I’ve cried softly to it and yelled at it in a fit of rage. But to avail. My laptop sits high and mighty and confusing on my desk, a glowy-screened testament to technology’s mastery of my feeble human mind. Nightly I give up and crawl to the far corner of the room to rock back and forth with teary eyes and confused wails.

But I shall not give in. I shall fight it on the desk, I shall fight it on the landing. I shall fight in the kitchen, and in the street. I shall never surrender. So back to Google and Youtube I go, armed with the knowledge that someday, at some far distant point, I’m going to make technology my bitch.

Learn German the Easy Way: Make It Up

Frauline, eine pinnten-mitter
– I would like a pint of bitter

Daschund ist ferr cheapen, yay
– I’m glad I bought this dog on eBay

Mein autovel ist spritzenfunken
– I crashed the car but left the trunk on

Das liebnitz ist dunkmunchen ayse-ze
– These biscuits are extremely tasty

Ich liebe mein frau, keine lezbein-ae
– I love my wife but I think she’s gay

Das frau eskapen, shitzen-bas kade
– My wife ran off with your attractive barmaid

Ich deprecht, com hund, uber-varr
– I’m going home with my dog and my brand new car.

The Asylum

They aren’t as heavy-handed as they are in the movies.
They escort me slowly, gently to the doctor,
Like a small child.
They hold my arms near the elbows,
Like handles on a fragile vase.
A vase full of problems.
Problems that swim and slosh and spill like dirty water.
Dirty water kills flowers.
Perhaps in time they can help me to grow flowers,
Like the ones I grow in the gardens.
They sit me down opposite the doctor and he asks me things,
But it’s only when you’re truly alone that things become clear.
Who is this person?
Who inhabits this pile of meat?
Is he asking me this, or am I asking myself?
Slowly rotting, slowly dying, alone from the start.
Searching for meaning,
Self-preservation,
Fighting the voices.
He asks questions, I nod.
I am but a fragile vase.
He is trying to empty the dirty water.
He is a good man.
I am taken back down the corridor.
They hold my arms near the elbows,
Like handles on a fragile vase.
A vase empty of problems,
Problems that no longer swim and slosh and spill like dirty water.
Now in my room, I fill my vase again with water,
Dirty as it might be.
For without water I cannot grow flowers.

Wasp

Nobody loves Wasp.
He lives in fear.
His body, painted like a warning sign,
Incites prejudice and hatred.

His mandibles make kissing Mrs. Wasp
A sad impossibility.
His sting makes anything more intimate
A fatality.

It’s no surprise then that he searches out
A little something sweet to comfort-eat,
Or a little tipple
To drown his sorrows, or just drown in.

The Future Boy

Something landed in my kitchen
With a loud and smashy crash
A metallic egg, all bleeps and hisses
In a cloud of cosmic ash.

I munched my munchy crunchy toast
While the room turned white and cold
When the steely egg gave birth somehow
And its shell began to fold.

There came amidst the choky smoke
A cough just like my own
And a space-age version of myself
Stood in my very home.

He was a lonely clone of me
Though his skin was pleasant blue
Until he fiddled with some wristy watch
And turned a peachy hue.

He explained he was a Future Boy
And had surfed the waves of time
In his Hypometric Chronocraft
To trace his family line.

The milky smoke had filled the room
And though I strained to see
I muttered those immortal words
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

So we sat and slurped our drinky drinks
Sprayed the pod with anti-freeze
Then he spoke about his future-world
And their cure for all disease.

We talked and laughed and slurped and munched
Though he was a troubled soul
He cried for all the long-gone trees
And how we burned the coaly coal.

He yearned to set the present right
And how I longed for something new
So I climbed into that poddy pod
In my skin of pleasant blue.