Delays With Kinks Ebook Versions

Apologies for the delay in putting out the ebook version of my Kinks book. With luck, I should have it out within a few days, but I’d forgotten what a horrible process wrestling with Microsoft file formats is.

To explain, both Smashwords and Kindle want authors to upload .doc or .rtf files, which they then autoconvert to their file formats. Smashwords actually won’t let you upload anything else, even though there are tools to produce epubs that create better results.

I write my books in LyX, which produces perfectly typeset output in a variety of file formats (LaTeX, PDF, whatever) which I can use for the print book directly. LyX is one of those tools that works with you so well that you can forget you’re using a tool — writing a book in LyX is like playing a guitar that’s perfectly in tune, with the right gauge of strings, with a band you’ve been playing with for years.

But then I have to tweak the RTF output I get from LyX in order to make it match Smashwords’ style guide (and the similar but more relaxed guide from Kindle), and that requires working with an MS Office clone like LibreOffice or AbiWord.

As these are designed to replicate all the ‘features’ of Microsoft Office, working with them is like being asked to jam with a band you’ve never met before, playing a song in 17/3 time, on an out-of-tune instrument strung with razorwire, which applies electric shocks to your genitals every time you miss a note. Not as much fun, is my point.

Office, and all its file formats, are a horrible excrescence designed to perform three completely incompatible tasks — create a document that looks somewhat readable on a screen while writing, make that document somewhat readable for print, and make it possible to be used to create short, single-page documents by the stupidest of people without problems by point-and-grunting.

LyX is designed to let you write, typeset and index a book or scientific paper of indefinite length without ever taking your hands off the keyboard, and without having to worry about what it looks like on the screen while you’re writing.

Word and its clones have autocorrect, “smart quotes”, and hidden formatting characters that break automatic processing. LyX has keyboard shortcuts to insert Feynman diagrams, the ability to insert LaTeX at any point, and saves everything as human-editable plain text.

Using MS Word to actually write or edit anything of any length is like trying to use Twitter to have an intelligent political discussion — it’s not just not what it’s meant for, but at a basic level the interface fights against it.

I don’t like using MS file formats, is my point.

So far I’ve had to rework the Kinks ebook .doc three times, and it’s still horrible, and has given me several migraines. It’ll be done soon, but I can’t wait for the day that Microsoft and all its works disappear from the planet.

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One Response to Delays With Kinks Ebook Versions

  1. Dane says:

    I switched to OpenOffice from Word during law school because it was impossible to create a predictable outline in the latter (not a difficult thing, you would think). It was like dictating a manuscript to a passive-aggressive Alzheimer’s patient with OCD. Who yodels incessantly. It was staggering how much easier it was in OpenOffice. I don’t know if any of the word processors would make this easier, but did find instructions for lyx conversion to OO: http://ubuntuforums.org/archive/index.php/t-453721.html. Looking forward to the book!

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