Making it look easy

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the rights to my previously-published novella The Taint recently reverted to me, and as a result I’m working to self-publish it. Which means that I spent much of the weekend playing with epub creation software, trying to get an idea of what it’ll take to put together a professional-looking book. And I learned something surprising.

This stuff is easy.

I was expecting something harder. I was expecting to spend hours poring over obscure specs, or wrestling with ugly, obscure, and bud-ridden open source software to get it to work. But it turns out that the software to do this is dirt-simple, and it’s called pandoc. Pandoc is amazing. It took me literally a few minutes to generate my first .epub file from the plain text version of my story. (I blogged once before about my extremely nerdy writing setup, and the basics have been unchanged since then. I now use Markdown rather than LaTeX for formatting, but I still write everything in plain text first.) It took me about fifteen more minutes to learn everything I needed to know about changing the fonts and layout in the generated file. I spent more time looking for e-reader software to try out the new book on than I did actually building the book.

And then, of course, I lost a few hours trying out formatting tweaks. That was a dark and twisty corner of hell to fall in to. The conclusion of that experiment was that CSS support across e-readers is very inconsistent, and ultimately doesn’t matter. I’ve got the font and the margins how I want them, so I will force myself not to care about the rest, no matter how often the alluring siren of CSS customization calls out to me.

With this hurdle out of the way, I expect that I’ll have the completed ebook ready sooner rather than later. The cover is being worked on, though you can’t see it yet. Pretty much everything else is good to go. It should be in e-bookstores in time for the holiday rush. (Do e-books have holiday rushes? Is that a thing?) Anyway, watch this space.

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