Even More Adventures in Publishing


I’ve been an author for so long that sometimes I forget just how it was at the beginning and all the things I’ve learned along the way. I know I’ve written about this before but I thought it would be a good time for an update.

My latest project was to transform The Complete Insider’s Guide to Romania from a text-only book (whether in paperback or digital form) to a fully immersive “book” complete with photos, maps, interactive images and video. As I’ve said before, it’s kind of like a “Harry Potter newspaper”, a living, breathing thing that you can touch, move around, get fresh information from the internet AND read the “ordinary” text.

The platform I chose is a relatively new (it’s only been around about a year) piece of software called iBooks Author which allows you (the author) to relatively easily make a “book” that can be sold in Apple’s iTunes store, download-able and readable via any i-device that has the iBooks app.

Creating the book was easy enough, as most of the controls were fairly simple. It still took me about a full week (i.e. 40 hours) to transform and edit the plain text into something interactive with video and photos. It has a nice feature where you can preview how the book will look on an iPad (assuming you have an iPad, which I do) and tinker around with it until it’s just the way you want it to be.

The software then has a “publish” button which supposedly allows you to click and upload the book to the iTunes bookstore and off you go.

However in practice that’s when you need to be both a computer genius as well as have the patience of a saint.

  • If you’ve never sold a book on the iTunes bookstore before (which is the case for me), the “publish” button sends you to the ITunes Connect website.
  • If you don’t have an Apple account, you have to get one first. I already had one, so I was able to skip this step.
  • There you must “apply” for permission to sell books (and only books – if you want to later sell music or movies or an audiobook or anything else, you must apply separately for each of these), filling out your name and tax information.
  • Then you’re directed to sign into ITunes Connect however it just tells you “your Apple ID is invalid”. You have to go online and do the research yourself to find out that this cryptic message simply means you need to wait to have your application “approved” to be able to log in to iTunes Connect.
  • A day or two later, you get the “approval” and then you have to log into iTunes Connect and download a completely new piece of software called iTunes Producer, which is one of the least user-friendly apps I’ve ever used.
  • NOW you can go back to iBooks Author and click “publish” and it sends a copy of your book to the iTunes Producer software.
  • From there you have to go through a confusing process of “signing a contract” using iTunes Producer (repeating most of the same name and tax ID info from your original application) in order to be able to sell books on the iTunes bookstore.
  • Then you fill out the standard information for your book (including the mysterious BISAC codes).
  • You also have to negotiate a confusing section on pricing. Apparently at the moment, Apple has 51 different “stores”, each “store” being a different country where Apple users have accounts. It’s simple enough to price your book for the United States (in USD) but why your book is priced in Euros for people in Argentina is beyond my ability to comprehend.
  • Then once absolutely everything is ready to go, you click to upload your book to the iTunes bookstore. I did this once and then it said “click deliver” which I did and it uploaded my book again. I went through this process about 10 times before I realized that the book had been uploaded, just the software mistakenly kept telling me to do it again. I finally logged onto iTunes Connect and saw it was there.
  • And then you wait.

How long do you wait before your book is approved and in the bookstore (or all 51 “stores”)? Nobody knows. In fact there are lengthy discussions on Apple help forums where people talk about how some books get approved in hours and other books wait for weeks before getting approved.

Sometimes some books get rejected for mysterious reasons or inexplicable ones (like links to YouTube videos are apparently forbidden, although I can’t imagine why). Other users say their books don’t show up under the right category and can only be found through direct searches. Another problem is that Apple forces you to choose a BISAC code (used by publishers everywhere to categorize books) for your book but then on their own bookstore they use their own Apple categories and so some books get put into the wrong category.

The list goes on and on as you can read from that thread as well as others on Apple’s own support forums as well as independent blog posts that I found in all my research. So right now my own book is sitting there in limbo, waiting for whomever it is that decides such things to decide whether to approve my book. It could be that there is some “forbidden” link to some external website or a photo they don’t “like” for some reason or some other error and then I have to submit the whole thing again.

Waiting for the gods' approval
Waiting for the gods’ approval

All I can do is sit here and wait and hope it goes through. According to the threads, Apple doesn’t even bother to email you when it does get approved so I’ll just have to log in every day and check on it. God knows if I were a small publisher and had dozens of books uploaded and waiting for approval (and authors anxiously awaiting to see their works online) I’d be going nuts.

Of course I’ll announce it to all of you when my book does get approved and is online because I freaking love this book. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever worked with and it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write. About a year ago I was tinkering around with some different software to create essentially an independent app (rather than a “book” in the iTunes bookstore) precisely because I’ve always wanted to make an interactive digital version of my book. So I’m very excited to see what people think of this book because in my opinion it’s pretty damned cool.

The software makes a digital document that can only be used on Apple products (iPad, iPhone, etc) and it can only be uploaded to the iTunes bookstore so there’s no chance of anyone using an Android tablet or other kinds of software to be able to see it, which is a shame. Perhaps if I get some free time in the future I’ll find a way to create a more open (i.e. EPUB format) version for other people to enjoy but so far this is what I’ve been able to accomplish.

I got to tell you, I do own an iPad and if I were coming to Romania and had my book on an iPad, I’d be freaking thrilled. It has all the same text as my “regular” book plus tons of photos and maps and links to the relevant online information and it’s just a complete package that you could take with you on your trip here and you’d be set. I sure wish the hell I had something like this when I came here to this country for the first time, although to be fair iPads and iPhones (or any smart phone) weren’t even invented yet hehe.

Sadly, all I had was a two-bit paperback guide written by a douchebag American whom as I later found out spent most of his time in Romania trying and failing to get laid in Iasi and then swaggering around in hotels and restaurants, using his credentials as an author to get as much free shit as he could. The book also had photographs with incorrect captions (a Romanian I met was apoplectic that a photo of a Hungarian in traditional costume was labeled as a Romanian) and shitty little maps of centru which were practically useless.

But that’s all I had so I somehow made my way around with that crappy book. It’s exactly why I wrote my book in the first place, precisely so that nobody in the future would be arriving here with such a crappy guide to help them navigate and understand this beautiful country. And now I’ve raised it up to the next level, with a digital book that you can jump around (with internal links) effortlessly and learn everything there is to know about this country (or at least, everything I know) and feel completely comfortable here even if you previously knew nothing.

That, I must say, is pretty damned cool :)

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert Macfarlane says:

    Sam, a really basic and probably embarrassing question. I’ve just purchased the paper back guide for 2013 and though I prefer paper to technology (showing my age here), the electronic guide is probably easier to use. I don’t own an Apple anything. Is there a Nook version or a version I can run on a PC?

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