Sean's Technology and Writing Blog

Apple releases free multimedia ebook authoring tool for iBooks

26 January 2012

Last month, I wrote about The Beatles' Yellow Submarine ebook, which is like a modern pop-up book, with animated illustrations, interactive pictures, embedded videos, and text that reads itself aloud. Since that was published, there have been some educational interactive books appearing in the iBooks store. It's clearly something that Apple is putting a lot of weight behind, and it represents a new class of content that is ideal for the iPad.

Now Apple has released the software for creating these books, iBooks Author, for free on the Mac app store. It's only for the Mac (obviously), but it enables authors and self-publishers to lay out their books and embed video, images with pop-up captions, custom HTML (web page code), photo galleries, Keynote presentations and 3D objects.

This will make it much easier for anyone (with a Mac) to publish their own interactive ebooks, which has an upside and a downside. The upside is that authors can express themselves in more interesting and creative ways, and readers can benefit from a richer catalogue of original content, unfiltered by major publishers. The downside is that not everyone is brilliant at video, layout, writing, design and all the other skills that are required, so there's bound to be some rubbish content that undermines faith in the format as a whole. We've seen the same phenomenon in website publishing and print-on-demand publishing. I'd much rather that people have the opportunity to use these tools, but the best way to exploit them might be for writers to team with other creatives who can help to bring their ideas to life. For now, before the masses adopt the tool, there's clearly an advantage for authors who can move quickly to publish compelling interactive content.

You can find a short guide to iBooks in my book iPad for the Older and Wiser, and my articles for writers and publishers here.

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Five short pieces of book news

15 January 2012

I just wanted to write a short blog post to round up a few snippets of news about my books:
  • Lulu is running two special offers applicable to my novel University of Death. You can pay no shipping using the code WHOASHIPPINGUK305 or you can save 25% of the book price using the code LULUBOOKUK305. I believe these offer codes work on all books in Lulu's store. My novel takes a comical look at the music industry and has had rave reviews from magazines including Record Collector, Music Tech and Metal Hammer. Find out more and download the free sample here, but don't delay! Both offers expire 31 January 2012 and only apply to books bought through Lulu's website. The novel is also available as an ebook on iBooks, but I can't create a link for that so you'll need to search in the store (sorry!).
  • Web Design in Easy Steps is following in the footsteps of iPad for the Older and Wiser, and is an Amazon bestseller. It's currently #1 in the categories for website design; web graphics and animation; and books published by In Easy Steps.
  • Tata McGraw-Hill has published an edition of Web Design in Easy Steps for sale in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. It's wonderful to know the book is helping people in all these countries to create their websites!
  • Saga Magazine has published a review of iPad for the Older and Wiser. It says the book "will have you set up on your new device in no time". See a scan of the review here.
  • If you got iPad for the Older and Wiser recently (thank you!), you might have missed that there is a free supplement available for it here, to explain the latest software updates available for the iPad.

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Sharpen your proofreading skills with a short test

06 January 2012

Proofreading is all about quality control, making sure that an article is accurate and consistent. Often, it will involve picking up factual errors (such as names that have been spelled incorrectly) and layout problems, but the focus is usually on grammar and consistency of style. The art of proofreading interests me greatly. I have written an interview with the Guardian's style guide editors and created a proofreading exercise, and have some more ideas for content I can share on this subject.

I've also spent a lot of time on quality control in agencies and publishing houses I've worked with, and one of the key things I've noticed is that you can get better at proofreading. It's tempting to think you've either got an eye for it or you haven't, but I've seen people improve markedly by practising it and focusing their attention on getting their copy right. That's why I encourage writers to work on their proofreading skills. You can do it almost anywhere: simply pick up a newspaper and see if you can spot the errors the subs missed.

WM Group, which runs training courses on writing among other things, has put a short proofreading test online. In some ways it's easier than my test: it's shorter, and there are fewer errors in it. But in other ways it's harder, because the errors are quite subtle and easy to miss. The company says that only 31% of people who sent in a response were able to get full marks. People often queried accurate punctuation but missed some significant mistakes which made them cringe when they were told the answers afterwards. I've seen the results breakdown for 49 people who tried the test. I don't want to give the game away, but one mistake was only picked up by three people, even though there's a heavy hint in the article itself. WM Group has revealed that there are eight errors, but the two top scorers only found five of them. Can you do better? You can try the test here.

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