iBook Author Software projects…
On 19 January, Apple made its big announcement about reinventing textbooks. They showed off some gorgeous, interactive texts that, frankly, I’d have killed to have as a kid. The animations, graphics and even the review section in the book really make it easy for kids, in my opinion, to move ahead at their own pace. Since I think boredom is the bane of modern education, this is a really good thing.
At the same time Apple announced alliances with textbook publishers, they released a program called iBooks Author. They gave it away for free as a means by which teachers and writers could create these multimedia books. I remember my freshman year at the University of Vermont where the professor teaching a Logic class had written a text book for the course. He sold it to us in six chapters, a buck a chapter. With the iBooks Author software he could have done the same thing, and just as economically, even now almost forty years later.
Like many other authors, I downloaded the iBooks Author software to see what it could do for me in turning out works of fiction. The editor works easily enough. Being familiar with other Apple products, I was able to cobble together a novel template pretty quickly. The only problem is that Narrative fiction really doesn’t require all the bells and whistles which the software makes available. I know there are some folks who look forward to the new possibilities of adding new media (video, audio and slideshows) to stories. And I’m reminded of the old Dennis Wheatley mysteries which were published with all the physical evidence needed to solve the case. There’s doubtless a set of CSI adventures in the offing here.
I’m not sure novels and stories need that extra stuff. Sure, adding it into a deluxe edition of a book might be nice. And it’s possible that I could record a little video introducing the book and welcoming folks to it. Maybe I could even get other authors to record those things, kind of like getting them to write introductions. Beyond that, however, I really don’t want things distracting readers from the story.
All that said, I see a bunch of projects perfectly suited to the iBooks Author software and presentation on the iPad. Let me run some of them down for you.
1) Apple requires that any book created with the iBooks Author software must be either distributed free, or sold through the iBookstore. This does cramp wider distribution, and makes the possibility of special, iPad-only editions for things a likely reality. I’ve really got no desire to give things away for free, but putting out a catalogue or yearbook, with samples of fiction, cover shots and other self-promotional content would be rather cool. I’d give it away free, and bibliophiles could use it as a checklist to make sure they’ve gotten everything in all its variations. And as people point out things that I forgot to mention, updates will be available to the old catalogue.
And, frankly, turning one of those catalogues out for personal use is a good way for me to remember things like when books came out, or how many I’ve actually written.
2) The Roleplaying Game Industry should be over the moon about this software. It incorporates graphics and tables for stats effortlessly. Seriously, it’s so easy to do a rule book, I’m blowing dust off a few old projects. Not only will it make them available on the iBookstore, but I can all but guarantee that Apple will announce, very soon, a print-on-demand service for making physical copies of these books. That would seem counterintuitive, however that’s a service they already offer for keepsake books through their iPhoto software. The interactivity aspect would go away, but if a book were created with that reality in mind, it would work. (This is a moot point since the docs can be exported as a PDF, and independent printers will gear up to print from those PDFs.)
Rulebooks and sourcebooks become a dream with this software. The glossary and index functions combine with the search function to make the books a breeze to use. Putting out supplementary material, sample slices of the rules, and errata becomes very easy. Long ago I tried to convince the Rocket e-books folks that they should focus on the gaming industry as a revenue source. Anyone who’s been to a gaming convention lately has seen a proliferation of iPads, so this is a perfect marriage.
3) Many of you know I got my start writing solo adventures for Tunnels & Trolls via Flying Buffalo, Inc.. The iBooks Author software makes writing a solo adventure very easy. Sidebars illustrations, text or tables could be used to provide the stats for anyone who wants to use game rules to play along, or readers can just make choices. The highlighting feature can even show you what options you’ve already chosen when you play through the book again.
4) I mentioned sourcebooks above, and this is true for private use for authors. All of us clip pictures, write notes, provide data which we have to physically search through. With iBooks Author, we can be putting this into a sourcebook and, using the preview function, run it over to the iPad. Suddenly I have my notes in a structured container which travels easily with me on the road and doesn’t weigh a ton. Doing fact-checking becomes incredibly simple. I can drop in pictures of characters (or the models I use for them), images I’ve seen on the net, old maps, new maps I’ve drawn and scanned; anything I need.
Best part of all that is this: when I’m done the project, I work with an artist or three, make sure the graphics are good, add an intro or other new media files, and I suddenly have a sourcebook which accompanies the novels and/or works as a game supplement featuring the world of those novels. (Without the gaming stats, the book would be called a work of “creative non-fiction” or maybe “docu-fiction.”)
5) Teaching Editions of novels and short stories are a new product we might see. My thinking runs this way: teachers on the high school and college levels, as well as home-schooling advocates, often have courses that survey a branch of literature. When I took a science fiction course in college, for example, not only did I have to read the assigned books, but I had to add in a couple others. Teaching editions of novels would contain supplementary material, provided by the author, for use in book discussion groups, home-schooling or a classroom. Teachers who want to teach a specific book, or students who want to bring in outside material, would have pictures, commentary, review notes, sidebars, etc., to enhance the experience. In fact, I’ve worked up a prototype of this sort of thing using my short story Wildest Dreams. It will take about ten hours to finish, and if I decide to sell it, I’d likely charge $1 since it is for education, after all.
In many ways this would be similar to what I did with the Deluxe edition of In Hero Years… I’m Dead. I’d have spread the material about differently were I using iBooks Author; I’d hire artists to do some illustrations, provide maps and so forth. By reorganizing the material in the novel and providing study tools, I make the book far more useful for educators and, let’s face it, between schools and home-schoolers, that’s not a small market.
The iBooks Author software isn’t flawless. There are some annoyances, such as being unable to do things that I could hand-code in HTML, but the work-arounds are not that difficult. I also don’t like that once the book is on the iPad, the reader can’t change font sizes. I understand why that is, I just don’t like it. (Changing fonts or size destroys the art of the book design.)
In my opinions benefits of the software definitely outweigh the detriments. (The End User Licensing Agreement is another thing entirely and I wrote about it here.) As authors learn more about the software, and as the software is upgraded, we’ll shape works to take full advantage of it.
In a meta-sense, the introduction of the iBooks Author software, and the restrictions on distribution, do reinforce my feeling that all electronic formats should be considered, by authors and publishers, like foreign languages. The specific formats are designed to be used on specific machines, hence the market is automatically fractured. Authors need to decided if it’s worth the effort to turn out an iBookstore-only version of a book.
Writing up this series of blog posts is cutting into my fiction writing time. If you’re finding these posts useful, and haven’t yet gotten yet snagged my latest novels, please consider purchasing a book. Nice thing about the new age of publishing is that you become a Patron of the Arts, letting writers know what you’d like to see more of simply by voting with a credit card. (Authors charge less when they sell direct, so you save, we make more, and that frees us to write more.)
My digital original novel, In Hero Years… I’m Dead is available for the Kindle and in the epub format for all the other readers, including the Nook, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. (Imagine the Batman, Watchmen and Kick-Ass movies all rolled into one, as written by Dashiell Hammett, and you’ve pretty much got the idea of the book. Oh, and with some satire and political commentary slipped in for irony.)