The legend of Atlantis

Backstory for those non-e-book types out there (hey, the non-Mormons get backstory when I post on Mormon stuff, so deal):

1. Last fall, when I was formatting The Proviso for e-book consumption, I made a decision to include the EPUB format, which is the heir apparent of the title “The MP3 of EBooks. ” I’ll spare you the geek politics of this.

2. I formatted it in HTML, went to BookGlutton to use their HTML-to-EPUB API. I plugged it in and voilà! a nice EPUB version of The Proviso. No muss, no fuss, and at no cost to me. Beautiful. Perfect.

3. Fast forward to March and I’m trying to format The Fob Bible.

You must must MUST go buy this book. It’s not Mormon-centric in the least (except for one poem, which made me cry, and a story that doesn’t seem Mormon if you’re not). The writing is exquisite and really digs into some of the Old Testament stories we all think we know but…maybe we don’t, right? What might have Job’s wife thought and done throughout Job’s affliction? What might have prompted Jonah to go forth to preach at Nineveh? What the freak kind of email was Ezra getting??? At the very least, go download the sample. And I didn’t write any of it, so this isn’t me plugging my schtick.

So moving along. I’m trying to format the e-book abridged version of The Fob Bible, Plain and Precious Parts. Everything’s going along swimmingly. The illustrations are coming out, the poetry formatting is acceptable, if not perfect, but good within the limitations of the display software. Then comes time to run the HTML through BookGlutton’s API, which had recently gone through an upgrade.

It didn’t work.

Panic set in because I hadn’t figured out how to convert to EPUB other than BookGlutton.

That’s where the journey starts, along with the rant.

If you geek types want EPUB to be the MP3 of e-books, you better damn well figure out how to make it easy for people to create an EPUB format. I spent weeks with your nonsense gobbledygook about XML and XHTML/CSS (hello! I do that!) and yet…not one conversion tool worth pissing on. I can have the best XHTML/CSS in the world, but that still doesn’t give me an EPUB file if I don’t have a grinder to put it through that fucking WORKS!

(Deep breath.)

With regard to The Fob Bible, I knew I couldn’t use SmashWords’s meatgrinder (as I advocated) because of the illustrations and the formatting of the poetry.

You know what? I don’t demand things for free, but if they’re out there and they’re free and they work right, I’m all for it. But I’m always willing to pay for something that does what I want it to do. I couldn’t even find that.

I then used Calibre (an otherwise excellent, excellent program, which had recently gone through an upgrade) and couldn’t get the normal text to show up at all in Adobe Digital Editions (which had recently gone through an upgrade or six—seeing a pattern here?) or the Sony Desktop Reader. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when the simplest code gets thrown out or doesn’t work or or or…something. I didn’t know what was wrong.

I hied myself on over to Twitter to weep and wail and gnash my teeth over this and one particular TwitterCrank e-book militant invested himself in my issue and we began to hash this out together. (If you read Mike Cane’s [@mikecane] post, you can see where this is going.)

We narrowed the problem to the EPUB reader, which in my case, is desktop Adobe Digital Editions and Sony Desktop Reader (and then, later, FBReader). It would honor <h1></h1> tags, but it would NOT the most important one: <p></p>. I mean, if you can’t get your p-tagged text to show up, there’s something seriously wrong.

Kirk Biglione [@kirkbiglione] (who spent quite a bit of time explaining this to me and talking me down out of the trees) verified my code, said it wasn’t up to snuff (a wrong &mdash; tag—really? it’s that touchy? fuck it), but then Mike Cane (who apparently has more disposable time than I) had run a MOBI format through Calibre to convert it to an EPUB and…voilà! again! It worked.

That was simple. That was easy. I could do that, no problem.

But still it nagged at me, the whole problem of EPUB creation and EPUB rendering (how it shows up on the various software intended to display it).

Somewhere in this process (don’t remember where), Mike Cane pointed me to a little program called eCub and I tried it. It wasn’t intuitive in the least and it didn’t take HTML code without an error or outright refusal. I thought its recalcitrance was my fault and I determined to figure out this program as soon as I got The Fob Bible done. So then I moved on to The Proviso Vignette & Outtakes.

I couldn’t get a handle on eCub. I played around with it enough to know that the best result would be to start with plain text and code it within the program itself (but oh, what a bitch!). I planned to do just this and write the manual for it (cuz there ain’t one, I don’t think), but then I thought, “Why should I?” The programmer doesn’t have a manual for it (that I’ve been able to find) and I’m not spending time I don’t have in email back-and-forths to figure out what should be intuitive if there’s no manual.

Then it was suggested to me (I don’t remember where, sorry) to download OpenOffice and Azardi’s eScape plugin-type thing that would enable OpenOffice to…do something? comparable to “save as PDF”?…and make an EPUB file. Frankly, I never got around to playing with it. Seemed like too much hassle after the tiring processes I’d already been through.

Thus, instead of trying yet another method, I reverted to Mike Cane’s K.I.S.S. advice to put a MOBI file (which I already had formatted) through Calibre, which worked adequately, even if not thoroughly satisfactorily.

Anyway, I decided I didn’t even want to think about it until I had to do it for Stay. except it did occur to me that learning XML would be easier and possibly more effective anyway.

Next up, a tweeter I met through Mike Cane [@alphabitch] had purchased The Proviso through SmashWords in EPUB for her iPhone. Now, disregard the fact that I kept her up two nights in a row for reading this thing on her iPhone, and disregard the fact that she thinks Mormons and Objectivists are crazy (“Knox Hilliard: The crazy never lasts long enough”), concentrate on the portion that she stayed up two nights in a row to read it in spite of the fact that the formatting was awful. Good gravy. I still don’t know if they got that fixed.

I sent her the file I made through BookGlutton, which she said was just fine.

So my problem came back to me sooner than I expected. I needed to provide GOOD EPUB files and I had to have a creation tool to do it. Putting a MOBI file through EPUB would certainly solve a couple of problems, but I still wasn’t happy with the whole situation. I felt like there just weren’t any good options to make a “standard” file everybody seems to want and the geek squad is pushing like they’re the Tony Robbins of ebooks. Rah rah sisboombah blah blah blah. *yawn*

Then last week happened.

David Rothman [@davidrothman] of Teleread tweeted this post by Paul K. Biba: Atlantis Word Processor Can Create EPUB Books. I had a smidgen of hope, you know, like when you’re a freshman and you have a crush on the big man on campus and one day he says “hi” to you? That kind of hope.

I bookmarked the site, intending to go back and really dig into it.

Heh. Not only did the big man on campus say hi, he took me out for dinner at a five-star restaurant, took me dancing, took me home and stayed the night (oh, so fabulously), then fixed me breakfast in the morning, presented me with a ring and declared his eternal love and devotion.

Atlantis Word Processor.

With a few exceptions, it kinda looks like Word, kinda acts like Word, intuitively enough that you don’t mind the exceptions.

It has a template for creating ebooks, and explicit instructions within the template.

It has a “save-as e-book” option.

And…that was all there was to it.

After a little tweaking (and I mean, very little—some of my pet peeves are curly quotes, line spacing, paragraph spacing, and full justification, which it does without question or hesitation), I got the e-book to look the way I wanted it to in Adobe Digital Editions (within ADE’s limitations, as discussed in Mike Cane’s post, linked above).

In Sony Desktop reader, the right was still ragged, but no matter.

In FBReader, it didn’t honor the serif choice for the font and it didn’t indent the paragraphs, but no matter on that, either, because apparently, they’re upgrading it to have better CSS support.

I experimented with the first four chapters of Stay (which took me all of half an hour), sent it off to @alphabitch for her to test drive it on the iPhone and she came back with a thumbs-up (no screen shots, though).

If you can use Word and you understand how to use styles, you can make EPUB e-books out of your manuscripts. I don’t know how else to explain it; it doesn’t NEED explanation for anybody who can use Word. That’s the beauty of it.

Atlantis has a 30-day free trial, and then it’s $35. I paid for it an hour after I installed it for its test run. It was that easy and that quick.

Oh, yeah. The big man on campus did li’l ol’ me up right’n’proper.

UPDATE: I was asked if you can embed pictures. Yes, you can. The template recommends a 400×500 image. I can only presume this is to accommodate the default size Adobe Digital Editions opens up as.

24 thoughts on “The legend of Atlantis

  • June 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I love your rants, even though I am such a computer illiterate I couldn’t follow the half of it.

  • June 16, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Dude is happy the rants aren’t about him.

  • June 16, 2009 at 9:36 pm


    I don’t have an ereader, but if the ebook of TFB is half as lovely as the paper version, all must weep with joy.

  • June 17, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Dude says to run right out and buy one, so you can download it and see. Dude will wait patiently for the weeping.

  • June 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    finally found a worthwhile one, did you?

    good for you! congratulations… :+)


  • June 17, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    “… I was asked if you can embed pictures. Yes, you can. The template recommends a 400×500 image…”

    400×500 is a recommended size for cover images only. You can include as many pictures (of any size) in your source document as you wish.

  • June 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Bowerbird, yeah, pretty sure I hit the motherlode, the holy grail.

    Atlantis, thanks! I knew it was just recommended, but ADE does something weird with it if it’s any longer than that.

  • June 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    iPhone requires even smaller pictures. Its screen is too small to display a 400×500 cover image entirely.

    By the way, if you have ideas on how to improve the “Save as eBook” feature of Atlantis Word Processor, please let us know:

    Thanks for using Atlantis Word Processor.

  • June 17, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    iPhone requires even smaller pictures. Its screen is too small to display a 400×500 cover image entirely.

    THANK YOU!!!! So good to know.

    Mmm, for now all I can think of is more extensive metadata feature in the “save-as” dialog box, but I’ll let you know more after I really dig in and make a wish list.

    No, thank YOU for giving me something easy and cheap.

  • June 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    perhaps you could do “abyss” for mike cane, and
    take him out of his prolonged misery on that one.

    just a thought… ;+)


  • June 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Oh no! That’s his project, not mine.

  • June 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    mojo said:
    > Oh no! That’s his project, not mine.

    maybe, but he can’t get it up.


  • July 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    >I can have the best XHTML/CSS in the world, but that still doesn’t give me an EPUB file if I don’t have a grinder to put it through that fucking WORKS!

    If you have your XHTML and CSS then all you need is a Zip program like PKZIPC. That’s what I did all my early development on.

    But perhaps I’m missing something in your explanation.

  • July 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Okay, I’ll try that and see what I get. Thanks!

    But perhaps I’m missing something in your explanation.

    It’s more than likely I didn’t explain it very well. 😀

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  • January 10, 2010 at 7:44 am

    What an excellent rant!
    I have tried a plethora of epub software and without exception none of it is worth tuppence. Authors do not write in X£$%^ or sanscrit, or ugaritic, or some other obscure script. WE write in normal word processors such as MS Word. WE can all produce perfect, readable illustrated documents with these WPs. All that is needed is a piece of software to convert a MS Word (or other mainstrean WP program) document directly to an epub document (perhaps with some modest editing such as picture resize).

    I am going to convert all my published works (and training courses) to ebooks. Caxton is finally dead.

    I shall now go and give this Atlantis stuff a trial. Thank you

  • January 10, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Thanks, AJE! I really like Atlantis for that, but for editing EPUB formatted ebooks, you should try Sigil. It’s still in beta, but it gets its bugs worked out really quickly and I’m amazingly impressed.

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