Of mollusks, multiple eBook formats, and Monty Python

by Raymond Parker on February 1, 2012

in Blog, Writing

Img description

Ariolimax columbianus

To say my progress on recently announced projects has been sluggish would be an insult to the greater mollusk phylum.

Indeed, the albino banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) pictured above, who posed seductively for me in the rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park, might have blazed the trail from Bamfield to Tofino in just the time I’ve wasted trying to figure out how to install Amazon’s “KindleGen” eBook file converter.

Really, is this the best the digital book-selling titan can do?

If anyone has any tips on how to even install this POS on my Mac, I’d be eternally grateful. Then again, maybe not.

After downloading it, I had to roam the Internet just to understand that this was a “command line program.” The Amazon download page provided not a scrap of guidance. In other words, the geeks at Amazon assume that writers will want to burn up precious braincells struggling to decipher ancient hieroglyphics, instead of writing their latest novel.

A Google search returned a slew of other equally-frustrated would-be digital publishers, asking the same question.

This post from S POLLARD, on the Amazon Kindle Publishing Forum, pretty much sums up my feelings:

“Note to Amazon technical staff: please can we have a simple, normal, Mac installer. You know, one of those things with an icon we just drag into our Applications folder. Having to mess around with readme.txt files that contain inaccurate nonsense is pretty frustrating. If we wanted this sort of hassle we wouldn’t be Mac users – we’d still be on PCs. Sorry to go off on one, (sic) but it happens to be true. For a company that claims to be at the leading edge of technology, and is encouraging its customers to join in, publishing via Kindle, this is a shambles.”

One could spend days reading reams of forum fomentations, but this programmer’s observation says it all:

“Well, as a highly-experienced programmer, I have to say, if you release a command-line program in the age of GUI [graphical user interface], you will get users complaining. Just sayin.”

Meanwhile, the Apple app iBooks Author and its “onerous” user agreement everyone’s been complaining about has given me a simple GUI to create a book in minutes.

Once again, Apple gets it, that people just want to be creative, not programmers.

But, just in case you take me for an Apple acolyte, what the hell were Apple developers thinking when they took away the “save as” function? I’m ready to desert Pages altogether! Apple, Why would you do this!?

Again, forums are exploding with indignant users who, through no fault of their own, can no longer figure out how to do a simple thing like save a file.

I’m not privy to the inner workings of Amazon or Apple, but I think this is what happens when the development team is run by programmers. They deserve respect for laying the foundations, but their work is useless without translation into an interface that schmucks like me can use.

While the eBook idea falters (or at least the idea of offering multiple formats), I’ve been working behind-the-scenes on other hands-on bicycle projects.

This stuff, notwithstanding non-standard crown races and such, is straight-forward. The plan is to make them intelligible to ordinary cyclists, or would-be cyclists, not just bike geeks.

I’m hoping they will be ready for prime-time before spring rolls around … not that I’d want to delay blossoms and sunshine.

I don’t know about you, but I need a dose of Monty Python.

And now for something completely different

You might also appreciate the efforts of Keith Snyder and authors of Ride: Short Fiction About Bicycles, who have waded through the complexities of eBook publishing to bring you the first edition, in multiple formats, including Amazon Kindle.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Keith February 1, 2012 at 7:33 am

Thanks for the plug!

As for how to install KindleGen: Don’t.

Install Kindle Previewer instead. When you open an .epub with it, it uses its own installation of KindleGen to convert it to .mobi.

Flippin’ programmers…


Raymond Parker February 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Keith! Hopefully, it will be easier to install.


Raymond Parker February 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Thanks to all who came to my aid on this, particularly via Twitter.

From my initial experiments, it appears that Calibre (mentioned by a couple of respondents and which I had downloaded a month-or-so ago) actually renders .mobi better than the Amazon converter.


Keith February 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Calibre munges TOCs. Or at least, it did. Most of us have really tried to make a go of it, but it just didn’t quite work right.

FWIW—these things change hourly.


Raymond Parker February 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm

From what I can see, the TOC on a simple book of poetry is alright (though, not being familiar w/ Kindle, not sure if there’s supposed to be another one on page with links at the end of the book)

Otherwise, the formatting was perfect, unlike the Kindle Previewer-generated version, which had random tabbed lines.

I downloaded the latest version of Calibre.


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