Lots of folk like to claim that technology in general and digital technology in particular make it easier for more people to do more things. While that can be true, the exact opposite can also be true, especially when you throw “convenience” into the mix.
An excellent example of that showed up when I decided to take the plunge and publish on Amazon. I finally declared a beginner’s weaving book that I’d been working on for years “done” (after shortening it from 101 Ways to Weave a Potholder to 50 Ways to Weave a Potholder to finally 30 Ways to Weave a Potholder and deciding to save the rest for a follow-up book or three), and went about getting it through Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing.
I spent a lot of time working on the page layout so beginners could quickly grasp the information. I originally laid it out in PageMaker, which gave me the control I needed to easily lay out the page, but nobody takes PMD format, (and the PDF converter in PageMaker is so unstable, it not only crashes PageMaker, but irretrievably corrupts the file I’m trying to convert) so I recreated it in Open Office (Ugh, never ask a word processor to do a publisher’s job!) and exported as PDF, because Create Space specifically said to do so. There were a few hiccups getting through Create Space (it was my first time through the process, after all), but I managed to have it up and publishing a week after I first started the process, looking the way it was supposed to.
KDP was not so quick. I guess I wasn’t tracking which pages were on what site (I had to resubmit the Create Space file several times, as new typos and glitches were discovered, and the system had me filling out the same pages repeatedly, and it got to be somewhat of a blur after a while), because the KDP version was up before I realized the formatting was totally screwed up. Each of the thirty patterns relied on three illustrations that had to be in a certain orientation to each other to make sense, and the KDP conversion was splicing them into the text willy-nilly.
I tried exporting as HTML, but that left the graphics piled on top of one another like a dropped deck of cards. I tried to download and edit the HTML that KDP created, but while some of the graphics could be repositioned, others seemed stuck in their places (and as far as I could tell, there was absolutely no difference between the ones that would move and the ones that wouldn’t). Eventually, I edited the three graphics into a single graphic for each pattern, and recreated the file yet again. After over two weeks of struggling and recreating the file from scratch at least three times, I finally got it down to a single glitch.
Why the headache? Because Kindle wants to give customers the control to pick their text size, which they achieved by taking away control of layout from the writers/publishers. And since they can sell all the books they want without providing a means for displaying books requiring complex layouts such as multiple text streams and annotated graphics, why be in a hurry to support such a small fraction of books that do require complex layouts?
And from the thousands of fonts available, Kindle picked three. Using font to create a certain mood in your work? When it comes to Kindle, fuggedaboudit.
Between 2004 and 2009, I watched the effects of the safety campaigns (that I think of as taking off in the 1980’s) being accelerated by the fears instilled by 9-11, freedoms fall right and left to the Patriot Act and similar legislation, restrictions on smoking and other personal lifestyle choices, and more mandates about safety equipment. Not having the money or connections to fight, or the time to do in-depth research into a major body work, about the only thing I could do was write a poem here and there.
After several attempts to get individual poems published traditionally, I collected and self-published (and by “self-published” I mean “off my own printer and bound by my own hands”) Fantasms of Freedom in 2009. The first edition was compiled and laid out in Adobe PageMaker 7.02, and the first edition included simple (OK, crude), mostly MS Paint-generated black & white artwork that I had intended to eventually replace with full-page, hand-drawn illustrations that were as much a part of the poems as the words. Since most of the poems were short (if not sweet), I selected Viner Hand ITC, a “handwritten” font that would create a more intimate, personal feeling when one read it, and enlarged the text to 16-pts, partially to compensate for the unusualness of the font, partially to use up the whitespace. My first-edition purchasers commented that it forced them to slow down and think about the words, instead of quickly glossing through the text, as often happens in today’s goldfish-length attention spans.
But after the headache of getting the illustrations for 30 Ways to work with the Kindle format, I decided not to bother with them. Why go through the work of selecting fonts and incorporating images into a unified visual expression only to have them strung out into isolated pictures and unstimulating plain font?
So I re-created it in Open Office, finding (to my frustration) that PageMaker’s sixteen-point text would have to be reduced to thirteen-point text to get the same number of lines to fit on the page, even after I reduced the page margins. And even after dumping the illustrations, I still had to re-create it again, because of formatting issues.
So there you have it: The “freedom” of being able to pick your text size and a choice of three fonts with the Kindle destroys the freedom authors have to choose from thousands of fonts or fully integrate illustrations into their works. A perfect example of why I wrote Fantasms of Freedom in the first place.