Why isn’t [title] available in [this] format?

Posted: November 5th, 2012 under Marketing, the writing life.
Tags: ,

The comment that the Gird & Luap omnibus wasn’t available from Audible as an audiobook brought up an issue that I see a lot of in email, so I’m going to mention it here (not, by the way, as a slam at people who ask the questions, Sam in particular this time.   They’re reasonable questions to ask.)   Maybe this will help (and maybe you can boost the signal about the lesser-known ends of publishing.)

Publishers of all kinds–print, e-book, audiobook, etc.–choose which books to produce.    The commonest reason for something  not to be available in the format a given reader wants (e.g., not available for i-Pad, but is available for Kindle) is that the publisher did not put it in that format…or the publisher did not choose to produce that book at all.

Unless the author is self-published, the author has very little (often no) control over the format in which a book is produced.    Yes, we can choose to license a publisher to produce a book–or choose not to license it–but most of us are sufficiently starved for income that we will license a book in as many formats as publishers are willing to produce.    And once we sign that licensing contract,  the publisher decides how to proceed from there.   Thus the questions I’ve gotten in email (“Why won’t you let your publisher make e-books for my [device of choice]?” etc.) are the wrong questions, addressed to the wrong person.    Similar questions used to be aimed at the print edition alone, becuase that’s all there was.  “Why is the print so tiny?”   “Why didn’t you pick a better cover?”  “Why did you use crappy glue to hold cover and book together?” are all questions more properly addressed to the publisher–who made the decisions–than to the writer–who didn’t and couldn’t.

With the proliferation of e-reading devices with proprietary software, this means publishers are nearly always behind in producing e-books that look good on every device out there.   As many a self-published author has discovered, just running your raw text through Smashwords does not produce an attractive output on all e-readers.   It takes longer and costs more than you might think.

When it comes to audiobooks that are produced with multiple voice actors…that gets really expensive.  So it’s understandable that an audiobook company would prefer to publish shorter books with less difficult “foreign” names and words in them unless a writer has a huge readership (huger than mine–George R.R. Martin-and-up HUGE) so they can be sure of selling a huge number of copies.  They’re not in this for the fun of it, after all.

The audio rights to all my books that haven’t already been contracted are certainly out there in the marketplace…my agent is active in promoting clients’ work in all formats…but if the companies don’t want them…the audiobooks don’t exist.    Movie rights are also languishing on the table, in most cases (there are a few options in play, but nothing that looks particularly likely.)   I’m not trying to prevent my fans from listening to audiobooks of the books, or seeing movies of the books–that’s someone else’s lack of interest in the project.

Again–no points deducted for asking…the questions are reasonable, and I hope the answers will make sense and help people understand a writer’s frustration when he or she cannot provide what that reader clearly wants.

21 Comments »

  • Comment by Annabel (Mrs Redboots) — November 5, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    1

    Incidentally, there is software out there that can convert (say) e-pub to Kindle format; my daughter is a publisher and tells me she uses it a lot – she finds it much easier to format books in an e-pub format and then convert it to Kindle than vice versa.


  • Comment by Rob Bolger — November 5, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    2

    Interesting information. Most of us readers have no idea of the ins and outs of publishing and licensing. As far as movie rights, I know I’m not alone in hoping to see and of your books/series on the big screen. HBO movie!!


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 5, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    3

    I’ve heard that there are better conversion programs, but since I don’t do the hard work (joke!) on these books, I let the publisher handle it. Having read only one book on a friend’s Kindle (an Oxford University Press nonfiction) I was appalled at the poor formatting and how difficult it was to read.


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 5, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

    4

    I think it would ease a lot of frustration–or at least annoyed emails & letters aimed at writers–if people did understand what writers and publishers do and don’t do, and can and cannot control.


  • Comment by Ed Bunyan — November 5, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

    5

    Being in the publishing industry, (news,magazine and telephone directories) , you can tell people till you are blue in the face, show them all the facts and they will still believe what they want to believe.
    Kevin Hearne who writes the Iron Druid Chronicles received a very nasty (IMHO) e-mail he posted on his blog where the announced that he was going to pirate Kevin’s books because they were not selling them in the country he was in and blamed Kevin for this situation. It is the June 5th entry this past summer slugged I got Taunted.
    Out of curiosity, does your publisher give you any input on cover design?


  • Comment by mikelabb — November 5, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

    6

    I agree that Kindle text formatting, particularly of consecutive paragraphs of speech, leaves a lot to be desired. I have found that experimenting with different text sizes and fonts can make a huge difference to readability. I read my daily newspaper at a different text size from Paksworld paperbacks. What is unforgivable IMHO is when large chunks of text are apparently omitted at random, thereby trashing any plot continuity.


  • Comment by KarenH — November 5, 2012 @ 6:36 pm

    7

    If a book has a lot of maps, tables, or graphs, it is hard to see them properly on Kindle. Along with the font size changes mentioned above, switching from portrait or landscape can help, especially for tables.

    IIRC, Elizabeth borrowed someone’s Kindle to read the book. If you have a Kindle account and really want to see the maps, tables, and graphs, the easiest way that I know of is to load the Kindle app on something with a bigger screen like a computer or IPAD and look at them there. I am not sure if the new IPAD mini would work, since it has a smaller screen.


  • Comment by Jennifer — November 5, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    8

    eBook conversion is a tricky thing – if the book has DRM, you have to break the DRM first to convert or alter the formatting beyond what the device itself will do (changing font size, for example).

    For the original Paks books and the Gird/Luap set, I bought them directly from the Baen website, which sells multiple formats without DRM. I then ran the HTML version through calibre to produce a customized Kindle format, where I could tweak things like the font, indentations and spacing between formats.

    If I’m making a document for use on a Kindle, I format it in minimal HTML, and then convert it, which I find works pretty smoothly if you don’t have a lot of odd spacing in the formatting.

    The worst ebook formatting I’ve had from a commercial book has been from old books that were converted – I think the publishers ran it through a scanner and OCR, and proof-read it, but it was still riddled with scanner-type errors (replacing rn with m, for example, or remnants of splitting a word in the text version, like “rem- nant”), and with weird inconsistencies in the font that were probably the result of different fonts/faces being used depending on the quality of the scan.


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 6, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    9

    In essence, each reader must master the software for his/her device and become a book designer, to get the kind of formatting we’re used to in books. Which, if the reader can and is willing to do that, allows the reader to personalize the book design. But takes away a lot of the convenience…you can pick up and read any paper book from a reputable publisher and (despite the occasional typo) read the standard format you’re used to. Once you learn to read standard-format books, you’re done, and your reading ease and speed increase with experience. Only on the fringes of publishing will you find weird page layouts that deliberately break expectations and force your eye and brain to read differently (which is slower and more difficult.)


  • Comment by Jennifer — November 7, 2012 @ 3:22 am

    10

    I find that part of the problem with formatting ebooks is that it’s a fundamentally different process than formatting a paper book. A paper book is like doing word processing – it has a single format that you tweak to make it look exactly the way you want.

    ebook formatting is more like programming HTML for a web-site. You have to give it formatting instructions that will be interpreted by different devices and produce a readable layout. For a Kindle, it has to work on a desk-top computer, laptop, iPad, several sizes of Kindle screens, and with different choices of font sizes, etc.

    Then challenge with that sort of formatting is that for it to work well, you have to give up the idea that you can produce something that looks exactly the way you want it to – trying to force it can produce an awful mess (and websites with labels that say “Best viewed on Netscape 6.0″).

    Personally, I prefer reading a physical books, but living in a large East Asian city means that space for bookshelves is at a serious premium, and English language books are not easy to come by (no free shipping on Amazon).


  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 9, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    11

    A full cast recording would be wonderful, if well-done. I wish the BBC could be persuaded to dramatise the Deed at least – they did a wonderful job, decades back, with LotR, and they do dramatisations of really quite obscure stuff sometimes (more obscure, IMO, than the Paks books).

    As for movies… I’d love for you to get a movie deal that gives decent remuneration, but seeing what the industry usually manages to do to F&SF stuff, I’m not sure how much I’d look forward to them. They could be brilliant films, but let’s face it, the film industry doesn’t usually manage to do that.


  • Comment by rkduk — November 9, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

    12

    While a well-done reading can be a great pleasure, listening to Kings of the North on CD was a terrific disappointment. The well-meaning actor made Kieri sound overly dramatic and pompous, and made [wife, whose name momentarily escapes me] sound like a silly goose. What I have always enjoyed about this series is the tone of quiet competency in the usual speech of these (and other) characters. I sincerely hope that reading the book in the usual format will erase the taint.

    On the other side of the coin, however, the actor’s range of accents was amazing and great fun, and has broadened my mental sound track.


  • Comment by rkduk — November 9, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    13

    Oh, frazz. Her name is Arian, and the book is Echoes of Betrayal, not Kings of the North. I hate aging.


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 9, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

    14

    I’m sorry the audiobook was a bad experience…I can’t listen to audiobooks (anyone’s, let alone mine.) I, too, hope the book itself will allow you to overlay the actor’s voice with your own imagination of the characters.


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 9, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

    15

    Aging can be the pits. My best friend reminds me, when I wail about the memory thing, that she knew me in my early 20s and I forgot things then, too. Though our motto, shared freely between us is “We’re not twenty four any more.”


  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 11, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    16

    rkduk, I found the two readers on the Audible ones (one of them did all of them except Kings of the North) both a bit poor in places, or in aspects, but relatively par-for-the-course. At least the one who read most of them was more-or-less consistent with her accents, the woman who did Kings would, in a three-way conversation, jumble two of the characters accents up. And say “brewstersbridge” rather than Brewersbridge. I find one often has to just take such things in one’s stride listening to audiobooks.

    The bizarrely Romanian Valichi in the original Deed was odd, but when he crops up in the newer books, she stopped making him Romanian. And some of the accent-for-area (or class of people) stuff she did was very consistent – plummy English for upper-class Lyonyans, for instance. Shame Pargunese changed from generic Eastern European in Oath of Fealty to French in Echoes of Betrayal – not that one is better than the other, it was just jarring.

    For all their faults, I love the ebooks. It’s rare to have them done massively better than that, IMO, except for incredibly high-profile books.


  • Comment by Sharon — November 16, 2012 @ 3:38 am

    17

    Well you got really lucky with Jennifer van Dyck – she’s fantastic!


  • Comment by Sharon — November 16, 2012 @ 3:39 am

    18

    And (stupid pressing too soon) she does a great job of bringing Paksworld to life.


  • Comment by Edward — November 29, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

    19

    Ditto on the Van Dyck kudos. As an adult who’s succumbed to Retinopathy, if it werent for the audiobooks, would have had trouble reading the follow ups to the original 3. Can see big things, but even large font things are a challenge.

    To my obvious “non-insider” disbelief, I was surprised that not all books would be cheaper to produce in audio format vs the un-eco friendly and anachronistic tree-killing method of paper. |(/sarcasm off).

    I thought, audio is so much cheaper when you think of all that publishing, printing, shipping, stocking, etc…. Audiobooks are just memory space.

    Like I said….poor ignorant me. :)

    Yes, “narrators”, and the technical staff required to record etc… are not cheap. But I still wonder at the reluctance of the big firms to push audiobooks. I see peeps everywhere, not just us visually-challenged, enjoying books on all those ebook formats.

    p.s. Elizabeth, why did you deliberately choose to give that Lyonian Squire a Texan accent? At least give him a South Texas/McAllen accent! /tease :)


  • Comment by Chris in NM — December 17, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

    20

    As a blind reader, I am dependent upon accessible versions of the books and other material I like to read. There can be a lot of frustration along the way as certain works I read back when sighted (I started losing my sight while in college in the early ’90s) are not available, other works in a series have only certain books available and so on. I haven’t joined in the e-book craze yet, I am only now considering giving up on a blind accessible Kindle app for my iPhone and am looking into Nook and iBooks which both have accessible apps, but I have been dealing with Audible for a long time. One thing I have learned is that Audible’s content folks actually listen to member requests and suggestions. It has taken some time since I made requests, but many author’s works that I have put in requests for have shown up eventually, including a series about a certain paladin that we all know and love. A good number of books and series, some fairly obscure, have shown up after I have made requests. So, I would encourage readers who want missing titles to be produced send in requests to Audible’s content request email address. It can make a difference.


  • Comment by elizabeth — December 17, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

    21

    Chris: I am very glad that Audible listens to reader request, and I will pass along your advice to my readers who don’t come here. Thank you!


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