Sunday, August 24, 2014

Format Bores


Last week I posted the latest chapter of my ongoing (some might say never-ending) novelThe Mother decided to take this opportunity to post a notice on Facebook so that my friends might be reminded that yes, I’m still writing the damn thing.  And one particularly good friend of mine asked if he could read my novel on his Kindle.  Which I suppose he could, if I turned it into a PDF.  Which of course I can.  So I did.

So, down towards the bottom of the page, you’ll find a link to a PDF representation of the novel as it stands thus far.  And hopefully I’ll be able to keep it updated on an ongoing basis so that the link will always point to however far along we currently are.  One word of caution though: the formatting ain’t pretty.

Of course, that might not be all bad.  I hope that, one day, I’ll actually finish this book.  And, when that happens, the logical thing to do would be to try to put it out in e-book format and try to get some exposure for it.  So it might occur to you, tenacious reader, that I might want to discourage people from downloading a free PDF so that I can charge money for an e-book someday.  But that’s not true.  Let me explain why.

As a software developer, I use use thousands of lines of open source code every day—undoubtely millions of lines, over the course of my career.  Without all that open source code, I’d get very little done on a day-to-day basis ... even at my paying job.  With millions of lines of free, quality software out there, any company (particularly a small company just getting started) would be foolish to ignore all that software.  Paying for something when you could get it for free (and when the free version is often of higher quality) is a pretty poor business decision.  Spending time to rewrite something from scratch when you could get it for free can sometimes make sense ... but not often.  So my entire profession is built on the concept of giving away valuable stuff for free.  It would be somewhat hypocritical of me to balk at offering a free PDF.

In fact, my intention is to keep these blog posts up as well, even after the e-book is out (assuming, of course, I ever get that far—much of this musing is just pre-hatch chicken counting, and I recognize that).  Hey, if people really want to read my book for free, on the interwebs, more power to ’em, I say.  I feel like the e-book will be a lot more convenient a format, and I hope I’m able to get some artwork (at the very least a front cover pic) that will probably be available only via the e-book, and there may even be on last editing pass for the e-book that doesn’t make it back to the blog.  So hopefully there will be some small reason to shell out some small amount of money for the “official” version, once we get that far.  (And the amount will certainly be small.  From everything I’ve been reading about e-book self-publishing, an unknown author should be pricing their e-book at under $6.  Probably well under $6.  And I’m okay with that.  I don’t need to support myself as an author—I have a day job which I love and am in no hurry to quit—and it’ll be much more about getting maximum exposure than achieving maximum profit.  At least at first.  Maybe I’ll change my mind when it comes to later books.  Assuming there are later books.  But that’s my hope.)

But, point being: I think there will be plenty of reason that many people will prefer to get the e-book version, once such a thing is available, without me adding artifical barriers to reading the thing for free on the Internet.  So why then, you may ask, is the PDF version formatted crappily?  Did I do that on purpose?

Well, yes and no.

My master copy of the novel is a Google document.  Once upon a time, Google documents looked a lot like Microsoft Word documents.  This is unsurprising, since Word has become the de facto standard for word processing docs.  There are very good reasons for this.  I hate Microsoft as much as the next self-respecting programmer, but one can’t argue that they’ve done a few things very well, and Word (and Excel) are among that small group.  I’ve used Wordstar and WordPerfect, text formats galore, HP Word and Abiword and probably many other more obscure programs that I can barely recall, but Word was the best, I have to admit.  Now, the more modern versions of Word became hideously bloated as marketing began to drive the feature set more than actual utility, but happily there are Word clones aplenty these days to fill the gap.  There’s Libre Office, for instance, which is nice if you happen to be using Linux.  But undoubtedly the best word processing solution these days is Google Docs.  It’s free, it’s available everywhere, on every operating system, and you can have multiple people edit the same file at the same time and nothing explodes.  And it works pretty much like Word.

Except for one thing.  They keep making changes to Google Docs.  Now, on the on hand, it’s free.  So you don’t really get to complain about it when they change things.  Except I’m going to anyway.  Because somewhat recently (relative to how long Docs has been around, at least), they rolled out a new “improved” version of Docs that changed the way your document looks on the screen.  It’s now paginated like it will be when it prints.  They no doubt felt this was a useful change.  Except it’s not.  This is the modern world we live in: the Internet Age.  When do we ever print anything?  This particular Google Doc gets downloaded to my laptop as HTML, which is then converted to an intermediate markup format that I typically write blog posts in, which is then converted to the pseudo-HTML that Blogspot understands, which is then posted back to the Internet.  And, now, I’m going to be converting the Google Doc directly to PDF, which people will then suck into their Kindle or Nook or what-have-you.  At no point in any of these processes does anything ever get printed.  And yet Google thinks it’s a good idea to do the knockoff-Word equivalent of locking me into print preview mode.

Now, the fact that this is useless and pointless is philosophically annoying, to be sure, but that’s not why I’m pissed off about it.  If that’s all it was, I might have an inner mini-rant and call it a day.  But the fact of the matter is that this moronic decision on the part of the Google team screws me in a far more concrete fashion.  Because, you see, in the old days my text went from the left side of my screen to the right side of my screen.  But now it does not.  Now it goes from the left side of the “page” to the right side of the “page” ... and not even all the way there, because of the margins.  So there’s huge, unused portions of whitespace (well, technically, grayspace) on either side of my text.  Which is visually annoying, but that’s still not the actual problem—if that were all it was, I could just increase the size of the font and be done with it.  No, the real problem is, I don’t have as much text on the screen as I used to.  I’m a writer: all I care about is the words.  I don’t give a crap what the “page” looks like, especially when there is no real page.  I want to see as many words as I can, all the time, with a minimum of scrolling.  The more I have to scroll, the more work it is.  And there’s just no good reason.

Now, I have tried to figure out how to turn off this “page mode.”  So far I’ve come up empty (if anyone here knows how, my eternal gratitude awaits if you will kindly leave me a comment explaining how to do it).  So I do the next best thing I’ve been able to figure out.  I go into “page setup,” and I find the paper size that is the hugest there is (I just recently discovered a new one called “tabloid,” which is 11” x 17”).  Then, since paper is always longer than it is wide, I put it in landscape mode (i.e. turn the “paper” sideways).  Then I set my left and right margins to be miniscule: just enough to keep the letters from physically touching the fake page borders.  This, believe it or not, still doesn’t eliminate all the wasted space on my screen ... but it’s much better.  Unfortunately, when I download as PDF, those settings are retained.  Now, I suppose I could reformat it every time I wanted to download the PDF and then reformat it again afterwards so I could go back to writing.  But, let’s face it: I’m lazy.  I’m not going to do that.

So, yes, it’s formatted crappily on purpose in the sense that I could make it not so crappy if I wanted to.  But, no, it’s not formatted crappily on purpose so that you’ll be more likely to get the e-book version once that’s available.  It’s just me not wanting to bother.  Or, if you’d like a more you-focussed reason, I feel that whatever time I might spend reformatting my document constantly is likely much better spent writing more fiction for you to read.  Or, to combine the two: there ain’t a nickel’s worth of difference between lazy and efficient.  Somebody famous probably said that.  If not, they really should have.

So, as promised, your link:

        The Diamond Flame (PDF version)

I may also add a link to this post on all the chapters.  But that’s a lot of work, so I also might not.  I’m terribly efficient.