Thelonius (Buck) Weinstein interviews Moby Dx author

The full interview appears in Aubergines, but I’ve excerpted the opening here. Buck asserts that Dan has written the Great American Novel. Click on the link to find out what Dan has to say about that.

Aubergines Newsletter

Buck: So, Dan, I’ll tell you, it’s been a long time, and I was very surprised to learn that you’ve written a novel. Although, from the acidic things you wrote me back when I represented your company, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in it.

Dan: Well, Buck, after our friend [redacted] told me that you’d entered senility, I’m surprised that you’re capable of doing an interview. I guess I shouldn’t believe everything he says.

Buck: No, not even that he’s still a friend.  Shall we begin?  Tell me, Dan, what made you want to write a novel about Silicon Valley?

Dan: Several things, but first and foremost it was the fact that I’ve always wanted to read a novel about Silicon Valley. There are some, sure, but none big and ambitious. I wrote the book I wanted to read.

Buck: And what is it about Silicon Valley that’s so interesting, for a novel, for a reader?

Dan: This area combines the best and the worst in America, so it makes a great substrate for writing about America. And because it’s California, and the Hollywood of venture capital, people come from all over the world. In most cases their origins are at most a generation away from them, so the characters, the people who live here, are rich with variety. You don’t have to look very far to find amazing origin stories.

Buck: So, you’ve written the great American novel?

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Posted in eBooks, eSerials, Interview, Moby Dx, Publishing

No Church in the Wild – Multi-genre mind and gender bender

Who is Bacchus Paine? You’ll wish you knew her by the time you’re done with this book.

First, why No Church in the Wild? Ms Paine is a scholar of ancient Rome. She teaches us that homosexuality is a modern notion that emphasizes gender, a state of being, whereas back in the (ancient) day, same-on-same sex was an action. You did it, or not, but that didn’t make you any more or any less a woman or a man. The modern load is much more to bear, since the action now implies that your manliness or your womanliness now requires a modifiying label; that is, homo- or heterosexual, for starters. In a state of a nature, that is in the wild, where are the judgements of the figurative church freighting us down? Nowhere.

Her tale explores the sliding scale of sexual preference, taking us through many of San Francisco’s festivals and a few of the neighborhoods, sometimes lovingly, sometimes with mocking, but always with finely rendered details of place or person. In that way, No Church in the Wild is a travelogue of the author’s beloved adopted City. Her ability to put you in the moment peaks simultaneously with her own frustrations, and you’re given a fearless exposition of her route to relief. Don’t miss it.

Woven throughout are her thoughts on the nature of memory, an oracular homeless man who may or may not be there, a long cast of beautiful characters, and some vocabulary straight out of the Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association.

This is a surprising and surprisingly ambitious book. I highly recommend it.

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Posted in Review

How to Publish an eSerial: #2 of N

On Book Design and InDesign

Book design is an old art. Its leading practioners know a lot about what makes a book look good. As one such artist told me, in what at first seemed like a koan, “Book design is precise down to the pixel.” He was referring to print, and what he meant is that the physical page is a constraint, and so are the additional choices you must make, about margins, number of lines per page, characters per line—probably 65 or fewer based on the ability of the human eye to find the beginning of a new line after finishing the one that came before—font size for each different kind of text, leading or line spacing, and more. There are too many constraints and the decisions cannot be made independently. Change any attribute by a single pixel, and something else has to change to accomodate it, or, at the very least, the lessons of a thousand years of book aesthetics will be ignored.

So how does that work in the world of ebooks where the very notion of a book page is fluid and changes at the whim of every tablet or phone manufacturer, whether a user holds their device in portrait or landscape, and while the user is given the option to change font or font size with a few swipes of the finger?

The answer is that algorithms drive software to do the layout on the fly, and the designer’s original intent is only partially realized at the moment of user experience. The hardware and software are changing fast, so things are getting better, but for designera or  authors who care, care a lot, about how their creative work appears, the results are often not good enough. Of course, in the end, it’s the words, that count. But food is more than calories, or vitamins, etc.

InDesign and e-book creation

Adobe Indesign is one of the leading applications for book design. It generates the files that e-book readers read and render. We used it at Melvillean Press to design Moby Dx. In the short time since APE was last updated, its guidance, its recommended workflow for the use of Indesign to create ebooks has gone out of date. Here is my recommendation.

  1. Use InDesign CC. You buy a subscription, and it’s not cheap, but you’re guaranteed the latest features and fixes. There are bugs, as always, so fixes count.

  2. .pdf This file format, can be read on computers and every phone or tablet I’ve seen, and all ebook reading software I’ve seen, but it is page-oriented and does not flow or offer the font flexibility that we think of as being part of e-book. InDesign is as WYSIWYG as I know how to discern, and device independent. You can’t sell a pdf book on Amazon.
  3. .epub This e-book format is favored by Apple’s iBooks, and Kobo, and others not including Kindle. The design elements that I went to such effort to build into the Indesign files of Moby Dx—based on the teachings of Bringhurst and other experts, and which render so beautifully in its pdf—are beyond the capabilities of InDesign’s epub export engine and every epub reader tested. I expect that whatever I know today will soon be out of date, so rather than explain everything I’ve learned, I’ll give you the following general advice and offer to tell you more if you buy the book and then get in touch with me. Advice: Use InDesign’s power to create nested styles and dropcaps very very sparingly.

  4. epub readers are not created equal. Beginning February 10, we began offering Moby Dx in epub format. It renders well, very well, we think in iBooks on iPad. Choices of font, in the reader, make significant differences in the fidelity of rendering.  It renders poorly on Kobo running on iPad. Same file. Different readers. Different, very different user experience. Is there a Kobo-specific optimization to InDesign files that would make Moby Dx look good on Kobo? I didn’t find it. The day is only so long. Also, two epub simulators for Mac, Calibre and Adobe Digital Designs, fail to render like iBooks, so don’t trust them if your target is iBooks.

  5. .mobi This file format is the one that Amazon and Amazon Kindle wants. InDesign does not export mobi, it exports pdf and epub. To get mobi, you need an app called Kindle Previewer developed by Amazon. Previewer takes InDesign’s epub and converts it to mobi and then simulates its appearance on various Kindle devices. Calibre also does this, but I don’t think it does as good a job, so I’m using Previewer. There are now 5 Kindle devices and at least two Kindle apps (for iPad and iPhone). To date, no Kindle device renders the Moby Dx mobi file as well, or as faithfully to the original design as iBooks renders the epub. You can read a mobi file on Kindle for iPad (or iPhone), but do so only at your own risk. Kindle for iOS (iPad or Kindle) requires yet another format, azk.

  6. .azk When you buy a book on Amazon and have it sent to your Kindle device, Amazon first converts the mobi file (that the author or publisher uploaded) to azk format if your registered device is an iPad or iPhone. Kindle Previewer can also generate azk files. At this time, February 10, 2014, the azk conversion and the Kindle for iOS cannot render Moby Dx nearly as well as epub on iBooks. If you are going to use Kindle for iOS, use the pdf. It’s still the most beautiful choice. Note: in the same way that the complete design had to be stripped down in InDesign to create the epub that looks good iBooks, that file has to be stripped down even further for acceptable rendering on Kindle for iOS.

Posted in Design, eBooks, eReaders, eSerials, Publishing

Transfer Book Files to iOS: Method 1

If you’re a subscriber to Moby Dx on Gumroad and trying to read the book on an iPhone, iTouch, or iPod,  then you’re probably wondering, “How do I get my book files onto my iOS device?”  The answer is both simple and not so simple.

First, I favor iBooks rather than Kindle for iOS, and there are two reasons why. The default iOS browser, Safari, invites you deposit book files in iBooks, so it’s easy to put them there. The second reason has to do with appearance. Amazon’s tools for generating good-looking books are still too difficult to use, or sub-par, or something. So, be sure you have the iBooks app on your device. It’s free from the App Store.

Second, Gumroad does not seem to like Chrome, so Safari is the preferred iOS browser for living with it.

Navigating to the most recent email message we’ve sent you, click the “view files” button at the bottom, then select the .epub or .pdf file.  The .epub flows and the .pdf looks better. On a phone, you will probably prefer the .epub. Either way, your iOS device will give you the option to open the book in the iBooks app.  Voila!

Alternatively, if you have a gumroad account, go to, then select your preferred file.  Your iOS device will give you the option to open the book in the iBooks app.  Voila!

In a subsequent post, we will cover a second method, transferring files from your computer to your iOS device.

Posted in eBooks, eReaders, Moby Dx

Moby Dx: Ripe for a TV Series

Cristina Ferreira writes on 2/01/2014 … This book is ripe for a TV series. When was the first time you heard aloud “Call me Ishmael” ? How much can obsession drive success or is it all about luck? If there is chaos and calamity around you, how can you manage to keep it all pretty straight? This fast-paced book tells you the story of Silicon Valley in a way you would only be able to know if you had experienced it yourself. It is locally sourced – and it is a celebration of all the wonder and the wounds that make it so uniquely Silicon Valley!

Posted in Moby Dx, Review

Unpredictable fusion and the dark hearts

Laurie Weisz of Talking Writing wrote of Moby Dx on Jan 31, 2014 … Dan Seligson is not a jaded by-product of the Iowa Writers Workshop. His riveting first novel tells a story of Silicon Valley’s big players, the unpredictable fusion of scientific innovation and IT, and the dark human hearts that complicate that process. In the first installment the narrator, Lakshmi, introduces us to a Bermuda triangle of young men: Jay, Vladik, and Max; three very different versions of genius and ambition, destined to collide. The book, which is impossible book to put down, will draw the lay person into an illuminated world of science and discovery they had no idea they could understand. Fascinating, inadvertently educational, and provocative.

Posted in Moby Dx, Review

How to Publish an eSerial – Part 1 of N

For reasons good or bad, I decided to serialize Moby Dx, and once I did, I discovered that I faced a bunch of challenges above and beyond those of just publishing an e-book, or is that ebook? In a series of posts, I don’t know how many, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned, in the hope that these will be useful to other people. I’m choosing to begin at this moment, the release of Volume 1, Max Ebb, on Monday February 10, because I feel I’ve solved enough of the problems to have something worth sharing.

A place to start

First, for anyone wondering how to publish an eSerial, and maybe for some others who have already been giving it a go, for my money, the best place to start is APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur): How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. I own the print book. I have the book on my iPad. I use the website. I heard Guy in person. I’ve spoken to him and exchanged email with him. APE and Guy have been and continue to be a great resource. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, hour for hour, Guy delivers more than anyone else I’ve encountered.

But no book, print or otherwise, in a fast-moving field like this one—the production and distribution of digital books—can keep up with all the changes. No one website could either; there’s too much going on.

Second, if your goal is making a beautiful a book, this is a topic that transcends ebooks and is just about books. According to two friends who teach book design, the fastest entry to this is a reference book, Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, and your own personal study of a fine book by a Knopf, a recognized leader in the production of beautiful books. I’ve been studying Americanah. It’s no joke. Knopf knows what they’re doing. I’ve also been studying Arion Press’s Moby-Dick, designed by Andrew Hoyem and illustrated by Barry Moser, a book that’s been recognized as one of the most beautiful designs of the 20th century.

Why it is hard to serialize on Amazon

Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller and e-book platform, and the platform you must be on in order to execute the #1 element of Guy’s distribution strategy, cover the Earth, does not support serialization. OK, that’s not true. You can serialize a book within Kindle Serials, a relatively new program at Amazon, but there are two critical problems. First, the only allowed price for a book in this program is $1.99. Most authors, or authors of serious books embodying years of effort, will not find that acceptable. Second, Amazon is exercising editorial judgement as to whether a book can be admitted into the program, in a manner something like the way Apple reviews apps prior to admitting them to the App Store.

An alternative on Amazon might be to offer individual episodes, chapters, bundles, releases—call them what you will—as individual products. I don’t like this for two reasons. First, the lowest price you can charge on Amazon is $0.99. That might be high for a chapter, but worse, Amazon discourages $0.99 pricing by offering only 35% royalties, as compared to 70% for books priced at $2.99 to $9.99. (The exception here is for Kindle Singles, where both lower pricing and higher royalties are available, but there’s editorial review with several week turnaround.) Second, it’s not my idea of serialization when the reader has to make a purchase decision with each new episode. I want to buy a subscription to the series.

A further alternative might be to work around Kindle Serials’ restrictions, and offer a book on Amazon’s primary platform which you, the author, update by adding content with each new episode. But Amazon will only notify book customers of an update on a schedule that is weeks long, and there’s no guarantee they’ll accept a change at all, and there are problems, or challenges having to do with book identifiers, like ISBN numbers, when book content changes a lot, whatever a lot means. This route puts successful delivery to your customers at too much risk.

Why it is hard to serialize elsewhere

iBooks? Kobo? Smashwords? Bookbaby? $0.99 pricing is OK without the penalty of 35% royalties. Smashwords, which is a great site with abundant useful information and services to writers, says, and I paraphrase, “we accept only complete works.” Bookbaby, another important site, does not permit major content changes that are part and parcel of serial novels. As on Amazon, a writer could put up individual volumes of a multi-volume work, but that is not serialization, IMHO. There is no provision for updates of the sort serialization demands.

One way to view the update problem is that in the case of each one of these platforms, the author is once removed from the customers. The platform owns customer relationship. Updates or new releases are in their hands.

How to Publish an eSerial: Gumroad

Gumroad is a SF-based e-commerce platform. Guy recommends it. Grammy-winning singer songwriter Sara Bareilles uses it to distribute .mp3 files. Still, it’s almost unknown. But what sets it apart is that it let’s you the seller own the relationship with your customers, whether you’re selling digital or material products. Want to send all your existing customers a new episode? Do it. Want to update an existing book file with new content? Do it, and tell your existing customers, or not. Want to inform your fan base of a new project you’re working on, without amending book content? Do it.

Clearly, you don’t get the exposure that you’d get on the big ebook platforms, but if you want to serialize, I know of no other platform that comes close to giving an author what he or she wants and needs in terms of customer relationship. You’ll need other ways to cover the Earth, but until things change, this is the best place to start for serialization.

In a future post, I’ll explain more about how I use gumroad; the options available, the choices I’ve made, and why.

Posted in eSerials, Moby Dx, Publishing, Uncategorized
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