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Making Your Own Ebook

wong030912fig1_2I read a lot. This includes everything from press releases to programming manuals.I also read lots of ebooks. I read them on my PC, my Droid Razr and my Kindle (I am on my fifth one by the way. Amazon has been great when it comes to covering the warranty). Usually I read something someone else has written and packaged.

At this point all my content is DRM-free. That has significant implications to me because I use some many platforms. It also means I can backup things I have purchased and make sure I can use them in the future. It is true that I could get a Kindle reader app for most but not all of my platforms. I don't always have Internet access so anything that cannot be used on an unconnected device will not work.

I like Sci Fi and get a good bit of my ebooks from Baen. They sell printed books and DRM-free books. My paperback library has a lot of these but I have gone all digital lately with their stuff.

One collection of books I read regularly are the Grantville Gazette. It is now an ebook-only collection of short stories that are set in an alternate universe in 1632. This alternate universe was created by Eric Flint for his book, 1632 (read online). It has spawned a host of other books as well as the Grantville Gazette. The Grantville Gazette is now up to issue 40.

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I won't get into the details of this alternate universe or the interesting aspects of such a wide variety of essentially cooperating authors. What I did want to talk about were some of the serials that show up in the Grantville Gazette. These are essentially episodic short stories. Usually they show up in sequential issues of the Grantville Gazette and they run for an arbitrary number of episodes. Some are ongoing. It is a good way to sell books.

I got my wife hooked on the series but she is not into reading the Gazette like I am (I have all 40 issues so far). She does like some of the serials like "Second Chance Bird" by Garrett W. Vance which brings me to the point of this discussion, putting all these into one ebook since she also has a Kindle.

The starting point was Sigil, an EPUB editor. You can use it to create your own ebooks and edit existing ones. It is not the only tool out there but it is free and worked for me.

Now EPUB is a format I use on my Droid Razr but it is not a format that works with a Kindle. It wants a MOBI file but more on the translation later. Anyway, I had all the Gazette's in EPUB format so it was an easy exercise to create an new ebook and copy and paste the sections into the new ebook. The process was not as clean as I would like and I did have to change the style of the section titles so they a Table of Contents could be created automatically. Likewise, I didn't move the images across because they were typically only as cover art.

The next step was to get it on the Kindle in the right format. I use Calibre Ebook, another open source tool. Calibre has sophisticated conversion support so it was simply a matter of generating a MOBI file. I did change one setting so it automatically generated a Table of Contents page at the end that I like to use. Otherwise it was such an easy task that I actually create ebooks for half a dozen serials.

Of course, the downside is I can only let my wife use these. Yes, they are DRM free but you need to go to the source if you want the content. Unfortunately there is no easy way to automate this task so I could provide automatic instructions on how to do it.

This actually brings me to my major gripe with ebook vendors and tool vendors. As far as I know, no one is taking construction into account. You may not be able to give away content but if another person has access to content they should be able to easily consolidate it into a form that is usable, in this case an ebook. I don't have the time to make something like this but it would be very useful. If you do start up something like this it should keep track of where things come from so it is easy to track down the source which is often why these kinds of compendiums are put together.

By the way, Baen has a free library where you can check out quite a few ebooks. The first Grantville Gazette is there along with 1632, 1633 and the Ring of Fire. Let me know if you get hooked.

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