Ebooks: A Treasure Trove For Dyslexic Readers

 Reading has always been my escape as well as my hobby, my education as well as my entertainment and inspiration. I am a book junkie! But there are people who struggle with reading.

typographyI have dyslexia in my family and I have friends with children who are dyslexic. I usually point them towards Richard Branson, as an example of becoming successful despite the challenge. But I have always felt a particular pain at the struggle to read.

Today I have an article from James Nuttall, a psychologist who is also dyslexic, about how ebooks have transformed his own reading and his passion for helping others.

While growing up, I knew that I had a reading problem.

During elementary school and upper grades, I struggled to read. I was basically a non-reader. While in the upper grades I read John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The only two books that I read cover to cover.

Every day, I watched my family read books, magazines and newspapers. I longed to do the same.

When I went away to the university, I visited the University of Chicago Reading Clinic. At this clinic I learned that I had dyslexia. While in the university I had other students read all my books and library research to me. I persevered with my studies and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Michigan State University.

After leaving the university and without readers, I again was not able to read very much. Then technology improved so I was able to scan print books onto my computer and turn them into audiobooks for myself. I liked using ABBY FineReader OCR software to digitize print books and Nextup’s TextAloud to turn the digitized books into mp3 audiobooks. In this way I was able to read books that interested me. I often like to read books on technology, the information age, and the sociology of economics.

For many years e-books were very marginal. But in December 2007 Amazon launched their Kindle e-reader.

Amazon made hundreds of thousands of e-books available for their Kindle. In February 2009 Amazon came out with the Kindle 2 with built-in text-to-speech which could read books aloud. Fortunately, now the Kindle Store has over two million books available and 99% of the Kindle e-books are enabled to be read aloud with text-to-speech. Text-to-speech is a computerized voice which can read text aloud. These voices today sound just like real people reading aloud. I particularly like the voices that are build into the Kindle Fire.

I have both an Apple iPad and a Kindle Fire. Since these tablets can read aloud, I now have millions of books available to me to read. Additionally through the internet every day, I read e-magazines and e-newspapers.

My tablets allow me to fulfill my childhood dream of sitting in my easy chair and reading books and newspapers just like any other person.

It is a miracle to visit the Kindle bookstore and to buy an e-book and to start reading.

For a person like myself, who must read everything in digital format, having millions of digital books is exciting news. I have spent the majority of my life locked out of the book world. With my Kindle Fire, I now have the world of print available to me.

dyslexia ebookI am so pleased to finally read so many books that I have written a book for parents of dyslexic dyslexia and ipadchildren and other dyslexic people.

My book Dyslexia and the Kindle Fire Overcoming Dyslexia with Technology talks more about this topic and there is also a companion volume for the iPad.

Fortunately, young dyslexic readers will never know the anxiety of not reading.

My final word is, “bring on the books!”

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Typography jumble by Bill Dickinson

Game Changing Technology For Self Publishing Children’s Picture Books With Laura Backes

Up until recently, one of the hardest markets to self-publish in has been the children’s picture book market.

KDP Kids book creatorBut that has now all changed with the launch of KDP Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, a tool from Amazon to help publish image-based books for children.

This could be a game-changer! In today’s podcast, I discuss this new tool with Laura Backes, who teaches people how to use it with her Picture Ebook Mastery course.

In the introduction, I talk about finishing my draft of One Day in New York, recording in a professional studio for my non-fiction audiobooks, changing my podcast logo to include a face, and my speaking events for 2015 – including March in Charleston at Pubsense and May in London on Making a Living with your Writing.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

laura backesLaura Backes is a children’s writing teacher and has been published by Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Random House as well as independently publishing. She has been producing the Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers for 25 years alongside her husband, Jon. She has also produced the Picture Ebook Mastery course which we’re talking about today. You can use promo code penn and get $20 off.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

  • Laura’s background with over 30 years in the publishing industry and how she has developed a business helping authors writing for children.

Current state of digital for kids books.

  • Survey from K-lytics: People are buying more children’s books in digital format. Print books are not going away but often people buy both formats because kids love to read the same book over and over again. It’s easy to buy a new ebook and download it immediately if your child needs distraction – it’s an impulse buy.
  • Digital Book World 2015 also reported that children are starting to read e-books at a younger age, and the e-book format is growing as a percentage share of all books purchased. (It increased to 21% in 2014, up from 14% in 2013.)
  • This generation of parents is younger and has grown up with more technology. They are comfortable giving younger children the ebook reader.
  • Schools are moving to tablets for learning – some are iPad specific and others are Kindle Fire. It depends on the school district. Kids are reading more ebooks and if print books are more expensive, kids know they can get more for their money.

KDP Kids’ Book Creator vs iBooks Author

  • KDP Kids book creatorKDP Kids’ Book Creator is stand-alone software, downloadable from Amazon that can be used on Mac or PC and can be used to create illustrated books in landscape format or portrait format.
  • You can import your PDF file with layout done, or you can create page by page and place your illustrations and text, which allows you to edit more easily.
  • Text popups can be used – the user clicks on the text and it enlarges in pop up window. Laura has created some workarounds for the pop-ups that give kids hidden things to look for, making the book interactive. You can also create new text and change the pop-up text so it says something different. More about this in Laura’s Picture Ebook Mastery course.
  • When you’re designing for the smaller screen, you might need to write the story differently. In print, you can have more detailed illustrations, whereas on smaller screens, like iPhones, you might need to break the book into smaller illustrations. There’s also less room for text. But remember, you don’t have to stick to 32 pages as per print, you can do whatever you like.
  • You can preview for multiple devices so you can tweak the layout per device. You then get a mobi file which is then uploaded on KDP to publish.
  • iBooks Author can only be used on Mac and for Mac product based readers. The good thing about it is that you can embed video and audio – but this is the number 1 feedback given on the KDP Kids Book Creator as it is missing, so this is likely to be something added soon. You can use both technologies if you own the rights to your books. You can’t add hyperlinks but that’s not likely to change as could lead to problems with kids books.

I include some questions from Alexandra Amor, middle grade author of Sugar and Clive, and also Karen Inglis, who writes for kids of different ages.

  • We talk about other possibilities for using the program e.g. for books in landscape format, like history books or fantasy books with maps. We also discuss Kindle Comic book Creator, which has a similar functionality by panels.
  • The cost of publishing books for kids. This technology brings it down substantially. Print and distribution costs are brought right down – although you’ll still need professional editing and illustration. With a picture book, your delivery charge on Kindle may be high as the size may be large with so many illustrations. Make sure you use JPEG Optimizer software (lots of free options online) to shrink your images without affecting the quality.
  • We discuss marketing your books for children – by targeting the parents and grandparents, not the children themselves. Tips on using your website to extend your book further with extra downloads for parents and teachers. Using Pinterest for marketing with images.
  • Other possibilities – the future of children’s picture books plus more illustrated books for adults. The possibility for translation when the text is such a small part of the book.

It is a fantastic time to get your picture books for kids out there, as the space isn’t as crowded as the rest of the genres.

picture ebook masteryIf you would like to learn more about this and shortcut the learning process, Laura has a great course, Picture Ebook Mastery, which will teach you how to use the KDP Kids Book Creator as well as sharing tips on designing, publishing and marketing your books for children as well as her top tips for working around some of the limitations of the software right now. Click here to take a look at the course – and you can also get $20 off if you use the coupon code penn at checkout. You can also check out the free video course by clicking the image below.

picture book creator

You can also find Laura at WriteForKids.org and Childrens Book Insider

Do you have any questions or comments about publishing children’s picture books? Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

BookTrack: Why Soundtracks For Books Are Great For Readers And Authors

I just did a fantastic event in Auckland, New Zealand, so a big thanks to everyone who came! Plus a big thanks to BookTrack who sponsored and organized the event, as well as Auckland Libraries who hosted it.

booktrackSo what is Booktrack?

First up, watch this quick video to get the idea about what it is – watch below or here on YouTube

In order to learn more about this, I interviewed Paul Cameron, CEO and co-founder of Booktrack about the service. In this video, we talk about why he and his brother started the company and what they want to achieve, as well as the benefits for authors and readers. You can watch below or here on YouTube.

Highlights of our discussion include:

  • People often read in public accompanied by a soundtrack of some kind – either to shut out ambient noise, or to accompany the story.

Books are (currently) one of the only entertainment choices that doesn’t have synchronized sound.

  • Authors often choose soundtracks as they write, and share it with readers. For example, check out the Undercover Soundtrack on Roz Morris’ blog
  • Booktrack takes a movie style soundtrack and synchronizes it with individual reading speed via apps. You can create these yourself for free – and it’s super fun!
  • Booktrack has a LOT of music and sound available to use – you can’t just use any music because of copyright
  • I mention how soundtracks on film are designed to underscore emotional elements, and no film is complete now without a soundtrack. Booktrack is aiming to get to this point in the future.
  • Readers can find Booktrack on the app stores or online Booktrack.com – it’s free to use and try at the moment.
  • The company’s aim is to become something similar to Audible but without words – selling books with soundtracks direct to consumers.

budapest booktrackMarketing and sales with BookTrack

Book marketing is a constant challenge for us all and one way to stand out is by having more than just text available. If you can add sound to your words, it brings another atmospheric dimension to the reading experience, and may be enough to draw people into your book.

The easiest thing to do is to check out a few books. Here’s my prologue for One Day In Budapest, and Hugh Howey’s Sand

You can easily share the Booktracks on social media and email, and coming soon, you’ll be able to use embeddable widgets on your website.

In terms of monetization, you can add a link to all the platforms where people can buy your book as part of the free aspect of the platform. In 2015, Booktracks will be available for sale, so could provide another revenue stream.

booktrack

Five useful tips for using Booktrack

I asked author D.C.Grant to share her tips for using the service. You can check out her book, Where the flag floats, here on Booktrack.

Dawn also has a book for authors, The Booktrack Author User Guide, which will help you if you want to do DIY.

flag floatsWhen you are creating a sound track for your book using Booktrack, it is called booktracking.

  1. Treat booktracking time like writing time – block off a period of time with no distractions, switch off email/ text message/social media notifications. Also limit or exclude other sounds, or work using a headset so that you can concentrate on the tracks.
  2. Booktrack short sections at a time. Don’t attempt to do too much all at once.
  3. Keep pen and paper handy, or a note-taking app like OneNote, to make a note of the tracks that appeal to you as you go through the results of your search criteria. It’ll be a certainty that you won’t remember the track that you liked on page 2 by the time you get to page 6.
  4. If you find the diversity of music tracks overwhelming, search for a composer whose music suits the genre/theme of your book and make that your ‘go-to’ composer when choosing tracks. For a showcase of composers and the type of music they produce, use the Booktrack Music Showcase.
  5. Layer your sound – start with music, then layer on an ambience track and finish with sound effects. Or layer two ambience tracks and then sound effects. Or a music track and two ambience tracks and no sound effects. The choice is up to you. You can layer on as many tracks as you like, but too many and things may get muddled! Play it back to make sure it’s not too much and that the sound effects don’t get overwhelmed.

Booktracking can appear daunting but there’s no better way to learn that to just jump in and do it! Have a go today.

BIO: D C Grant writes books for boys because she reads books for boys. Her favorite authors are Lee Child and Bernard Cornwall and with these influences she was never going to be a romance writer. D C Grant currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand but was born in Manchester, England and lived for twenty years in Durban, South Africa. She currently lives in a New York style loft apartment with a slightly psychotic cat called Candy.

Here’s how to make a Booktrack

You can find out more at Booktrack.com or on twitter @booktrack

What do you think about this? Do you ever listen to music/movie soundtracks when reading? Have you tried using Booktrack as a reader or as an author and do you have any tips or thoughts? Please leave your comments below and join the conversation. 

 

Freedom Of Expression, DRM, Piracy And Censorship With Cory Doctorow

On Fri 13 June, I went along to The Literary Consultancy’s conference and heard Cory Doctorow speak about DRM (digital rights management), the scary side of monitoring, why you shouldn’t support DRM and some sobering information about the freedom of creation and the internet.

cory doctorow TLCI don’t have DRM on my indie books, and I certainly support the fight against censorship on the internet, BUT this talk helped me realize the extent of my own ignorance about these issues.

I’m now remedying this situation by reading a LOT more about it – this is a critical part of our future as creatives and as internet entrepreneurs. I hope you will feel the same way after you’ve listened to this speech.

You can listen to the talk below. The main talk is the first 23 mins and I’ve broken down some notes below. After 23 mins is the Q&A

Here are a few notes:

Doctorow’s 3 Laws

  • Anytime someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won’t give you the key, it’s not there for your benefit. On why DRM is a bad idea. Also, how Hachette is one of the publishers with mandatory DRM. Plus, indies should make sure they actively choose not to use DRM – on some of the distribution sites, it is auto-selected. It’s certainly not necessary – as publisher Tor is now DRM free.
  • Fame won’t make you rich but you’ll have a hard time getting sales if no one has heard of you. Starts around 9mins in. Discusses how the deal for creators has got worse as the big conglomerates have consolidated into larger organizations. Talking about copyright laws, entertainment companies and law suits that are trying to control technology. Mentions Hugh Howey and indie authors, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Madonna switching to the concert organizer instead of a record label/distributor.
  • Information doesn’t want to be free. Starts at around 17mins. On censorship, privacy and more. The laws that protect DRM also stop the disclosure of flaws that can harm you. Scary stuff about ‘ratting,’ how your devices including your computer’s camera can be hacked – but now it is illegal to inform you how you can protect yourself. Seriously, this is awful stuff.

More information

What do you think about these issues? Please comment below. If you’re specifically knowledgable about this area, please add links in the comments to more resources. This feels like a critical topic for us to be more educated about.

Publishing: Why You Should Care About Ebook vs Print Formatting

One of the fantastic rewards of writing a book is being able to hold a physical copy in our hands. Regardless of other definitions of success, the thrill never goes away.

letterpressI’m a huge fan of print-on-demand, and one of the most popular posts on the blog is Top 10 tips on self-publishing print books on Createspace by Dean Fetzer. Today, Dean is back to share a common question about formatting ebooks vs print.

I get asked this question a lot: “Can I use my CreateSpace PDF for the ebook version?”

The simple answer is ‘no’. Well, you could, but I doubt you’d be very happy with the finished results — and more importantly, neither would your readers. Frankly, a PDF is the last format you should use to create an ebook from as it does so many things that you just don’t want an ebook to do.

Flow vs rigid formatting

With a printed book, you want to control as much as you possibly can, from how the text aligns to the headers at the tops of the pages to where the page numbers sit on the page: that all needs to be exact to provide the best printed reading experience you can for your readers.

Ebooks, on the other hand, need to flow. You’ve no idea what the person reading your book is reading it on, much less whether they use really small text or enlarge it so they can read it easily. Even if all you format your book for is the Kindle platform, each model varies in the way it displays the written word.

If your book doesn’t adjust to that, they’re not going to enjoy reading it.

Differences in Kindle formatting

 

You can see from these three examples how different even the Kindle platform is when each device displays the book differently.

Ebooks are basically created using hypertext, the same language that web pages use to format content for the internet, albeit with fewer options for styling the text for the viewer. (No, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn HTML to set out your book, it just means you need to think differently about how you do it.)

The key for ebooks is about ‘flow’: how does your text look when you enlarge the font size on your reading device? What happens when it gets smaller? The pages reformat themselves automatically to fit the screen of the device and your book needs to do that, too. This is the main reason page numbers are pretty much worthless on an ereader — how do you know what page it is if the text has reflowed to fit the screen or the needs of the reader?

Minimal formatting

Your printed book looks great on paper, but that’s because a lot of effort has gone into making it fit the page, not to mention all the other work that goes into setting a book out for the printed page. Not so with ebooks – if anything you want less control.

The key to a successful ebook is to minimise the amount of additional formatting: that means no funky fonts, no weird margins and try to avoid tables or other text constructs in your copy that require a specific format.

I know, I know, “it looks so much better if that funny bit is in Comic Sans” — trust me, nothing looks better in Comic Sans. And if you want to keep your reader interested, you need to make the reading experience as easy for them as possible.

Keep formatting to a minimum. This means that rather than use an unusual font that isn’t supported by a lot of devices, go for bolding a basic font or use italics instead. If you have to use a different font, put it in a graphic. That way you can control the look and feel without resorting to embedding unusual fonts or anything else that will look bad on an ereader screen.

Sure you can indent a paragraph, just don’t try to lock it into a particular size or style at the same time. Don’t use drop caps as that’s another option that will just cause problems.

First tip: keep it simple. By that I mean take out any text formatting that is going to cause the reader problems with your book.

Graphics

Photos or other images need to be high resolution for a print book – at least 300 dpi – it’s just the way printers work and the best way to get good results from your printed book. Graphics for ebooks, on the other hand, only need to be screen resolution.

So the simple explanation is that graphics need to be resized. Don’t worry, this is done by a lot of the converters out there, so it’s not a huge worry, but if you use a lot of images, I would recommend resizing them yourself before you put them in the ebook to avoid complications later. And by all means, keep them to a  minimum.

Tip: keep images to a minimum and resize them before you submit your ebook.

Page breaks

Page breaks or section breaks are important in print and ebooks, as they keep chapters from flowing into each other and separate text you don’t want flowing on from a previous text block. Use them.

One of the worst crimes in terms of manuscript formatting I’ve seen is the use of paragraph returns to separate pages. I spend a good portion of my life taking paragraph returns out of manuscripts. So don’t do it. That’s what page and section breaks are for. I prefer section breaks between chapters because that’s more useful than a simple page break and provides a better standard of break.

Tip: use section breaks between chapters.

File formats

Okay, you’ve got your file ready for publication in print, so now what? That print file is a good place to start, just remember that you’ll need to simplify it for your ebook. It’s probably too complicated and not necessarily laid out in the right order to suit your electronic version.

For your ebook, you need to get it into the right format for the device you’re planning to publish on. The most popular version of format is the ‘.epub’ file format. Yes, I know, Kindle Direct Publishing until recently preferred a ‘.mobi’ file format (don’t write in), but they will now accept an unbundled .epub file, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Personally, I always submit a .mobi file to KDP as I know where it’s been. By that, I mean that it is formatted in such a way that nine times out of ten I can predict how it’s going to behave.

This is probably the most common question I get asked: “How do I convert my book to the right format?” The straight answer is there is no simple way to do it that will guarantee you the best results. I usually code my books by hand until they’re ready to be made into an epub file, then convert them to .mobi for Kindle.

“How do I get my book into a .mobi format?”, I can hear you ask? Well, that’s the difficult part. No one has yet come up with an easy way to generate a .mobi file, although it’s easy enough to convert a file with a shareware app like Calibre. I find that Calibre’s conversion is a bit too rough and doesn’t always compile the files correctly.

A simple way to get to an .epub is to import a modern Microsoft Word file (.docx) into Calibre and then convert it to the epub format. You will need to add a table of contents and either link them to bookmarks for each of your chapters via the Hyperlink function or produce the file on a PC which will allow you to embed the links as HTML. Why the Mac version doesn’t do this, I don’t know.

Once I’ve got the epub file, I put the book through Kindle’s free application KindleGen on the Mac to convert it to a .mobi file. This isn’t something I’d recommend for everyone, as it uses Apple’s Terminal application and does take a bit of know-how of the Unix command line to do this kind of conversion.

If you’re converting to a .epub file, I would recommend Calibre as the results for that conversion have been pretty good for me. Once you’ve produced an epub file, you need to see if it validates by using something like ePub Checker or use an online validator to test it. If it doesn’t pass the checks, it won’t be a submittable file. And it won’t always give you enough information about what is wrong with the file.

There are a number of places to look for advice online but I’d recommend Mobile Read for general advice and great forums, Joel Friedlander  is always a good source (here he talks about decision making when producing your ebook) and this blog entry has some great resources, too. Oh, and Joel Friedlander has just added a new kind of template that allows you to do both versions from the same file.

I know Joanna uses Scrivener to compile her ebooks and is happy with the results, but again, it takes a bit of work to get it to come out correctly to the standard you want. Personally, I don’t like giving that control up – hey, I’m a control freak with a perfectionist streak, what can I say?

Alternatively, you can always pay someone like me to do the conversion, so you don’t have to or you can submit a Word file that you’ve reformatted to be as simple as possible, to KDP or one of the others and hope for the best.

The end result

This is what you’re looking for: a file that passes KDP or any other ebook platform’s checks to get your book published. It’s not an easy job and if you’ve seen a badly formatted ebook, you know exactly what I mean.

The final tip I’d give is to do the best you can to make sure your book provides a great reading experience for the reader.

And I can help!

If this all this seems too daunting, I can help you produce the best ebook for your project. And I’m reasonable!

Dean Fetzer - www.deanfetzer.com

You can find more information on the services I provide at www.gunboss.com or contact me through the form on the site.

Dean Fetzer is the author of four thrillers, a former pub reviewer and has been a graphic designer for more than 20 years, designing for print and then the internet before naturally moving into book design.