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The Maker of the Clockwork Phoenix e-books speaks (a Kickstarter supplement)

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Allow me to introduce all of you to Elizabeth Campbell. She runs a blog collective called Dark Cargo. She also makes e-books for authors and small presses, including me!

The CLOCKWORK PHOENIX Kickstarter hit the level that lets us pay pro rates today (HOORAY AND THANK YOU!) and we're chasing what I'm guessing to be our final stretch goal, that would make the Mythic Delirium Books website the home of a new online market for poetry and fiction. Elizabeth volunteered her services building e-books as a reward we can offer, and there's still some slots of those reward levels unclaimed, so I thought I'd ask her to talk a little more about what she does.

Just to give a little extra context -- now that I've turned in the short story I had due, my next task is to finally put the finishing touches on the e-book edition of Clockwork Phoenix 3, which I wouldn't be able to do at all if it weren't for Elizabeth. She even tackled and solved the tricky problem of how to represent the footnotes in Tori Truslow's "Tomorrow Is Saint Valentine's Day."

So, without further ado, my questions, her answers.

How did you get into formatting e-books?
During college I worked in the NM Bureau of Geology as a copyeditor. Some of my duties were to scan the articles submitted by the Geo Geezers who hadn't yet moved into the digital age. (Granted, there wasn't much of a digital age, even then.) Some of the articles would come in typed on a typewriter at best, as hand-written field notes at worst. Not to poke fun, but really, these geologists were in their 70's. Their experience held 50 years of reading the rocks and they could give a schist about the dissemination of the information.

It was our job to scan these articles and render them legible, correcting the OCR errors, formatting and proofreading. Everything I learned about layout and design and standardization of punctuation I learned from my boss there at the time, Nancy Gilson. (Remember that name, there will be a pop quiz later.)

I bought a Kindle in 2007 with the intention of  downloading and reading everything that Jennifer Roberson wrote. Why was this so important? I had her books, sometimes in multiple copies. Her books never were released and I read a lot of other books in digital format while waiting for hers to show up in the Kindle catalog. After two years of waiting I got annoyed and messaged her on Facebook, offering to do this work for her. (Sure I can do this! Piece of cake, right? How hard can it be?)

She agreed and we've worked together to have released one of her three very first pre-fantasy-career stories. You can see this in the Kindle Store as "Lonnie". DAW is only now getting around to releasing her fantasies in digital format.

I learned so much about the industry while working on this project. From copyright issues (who owns the story?) to technical issues (Adobe CS4 does *not* export a viable Kindle product). I had a lot of trial and error, and had to do that first story over and over again. Roberson has been very patient with me learning how to do this, but it has been a success.

I've since bought better scanning software, learned to code HTML a little bit, discovered Sigil/Calibre/KindleGen, and have invaluable help from the same Nancy Gilson and a friend of a friend Jim Bailey who both help the projects as second eyes, going over the near-final texts for errors. These projects wouldn't happen without them, and anyone who claims they can publish their own work without the assistance of a copyeditor is cracked.  

The whole process goes much faster now.

Who have you done work for?
Well, you, Mike.

In addition to Roberson, I do this scanning/ebook coding work for Juliet E. McKenna. the first ebook that I completed that made it to market is a collection of short stories from McKenna, complete with interlaced full illustrations. That, thank you very much, is a beautiful book. It's titled "A Few Further Tales of Einnarin" and can be found in KindleLand and also at Wizard's Tower Books.

I convinced Barbara Freind-Ish of Mercury Retrograde Press that her world would be a better place with me in it, and she fell for my line. Sometimes their projects require OCR, but most of their projects are complex in that they require multiple embedded table of contents, fancy fonts, and a totally distinct Kindle file. We've finished up Leona Wisoker's first two books, Secrets of the Sands and Guardians of the Desert, which are both available via the assorted markets. Get the .epub versions.

Some other projects are in the works.

With the encouragement (ok, swift kick to the head) of Jonah Knight and another friend who prefers to stay anonymous on the web, I started & licensed Antimatter ePress with the intention of being able to assist authors in getting their works out into the digital realm. Most of my clients either do not have the technical expertise to do this on their own, or their time is better spent doing what they do best. It's the same Geologist problem, above. Let me fuss with this stuff. You go play outside. These authors have spent a lifetime investing in their stories. Those stories should be making money again for them, as they enter on into retirement, and it's a damn shame if they stay locked in a print format, doing them no good. If the original publisher has the digital rights locked up and has not yet produced a digital edition of the book, well, I consider that negligence criminal. There's no reason for it, not with the kind of fan base that SF/F has, with lifetime fans willing to volunteer their efforts to make the books digital.

I prefer to work with small presses, like Mercury Retrograde, and directly with authors, like McKenna and Roberson. I believe that, with the unlocking of the digitally downloaded future, there's no reason experienced authors or visionary small presses shouldn't now be in more control of their works.

What will your services for those who bid on your work through the Kickstarter entail?
I dunno. We'll see. For me, each ebook project is a unique thing, a new video game. How can I unlock all its secrets and make it more than the print limitations? It's important to me that each project is more than just "viable". That's boring and I'm easily bored. Would cross-referenced hyperlinks be useful here? Why should all the images be at the end? Let's string them throughout. You have two glossaries--how can we utilize this booger's digitalness to the max? But technically, I set up the e-file, doing whatever coding is necessary to make it look the way the author wants it to, within the limitations of the devices. I embedd the cover art and whatever arts there are for the work. I test it across different devices to make sure the chapter headings all center correctly, etc.

I feel silly telling you this, but it needs to be said as there are so many dumbly formatted ebooks out there. You get chapter breaks, you get images that don't split onto two pages, you get an embedded TOC, you get hyperlinks that go where they are supposed to go, you get consistently formatted headers, paragraphs, scene breaks...do I need to go on? I don't earn money doing this, I do it for fun. It is hours, sometimes months, of work for me. Therefore, you get the benefit of me doing a fab job because it's important to me that a fab job has been done.

A lot of this stuff is being sent overseas via Ingram, but those are not crafted books. They have all the frustrating formatting errors that turn off a reader to both the author and the publisher. I don't know why they bother with this. All they're doing is selling broken products.

Why do you like Clockwork Phoenix so much?
Now on to the hard question. There's a class of writing that goes beyond being just mass-acceptible...? Is that a word? They explore what can be, or might be, or should be possible to do with writing when not limited to being digestible money makers. Truly, these are artworks. I think in parallels, so forgive another one. I do some weaving. With a simple loom, a weaver can make dishrags all day long. It may be a beautiful dishrag, but it is just a dishrag. But with the mastery of technical skill and creative vision, a weaver can produce a piece of art that breaks our definition of weaving. There is no monetary value for these things. To me, Clockwork Phoenix anthologies are that.

Reading the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies were an experience of learning to read all over again. With the planet of publishing shrinking down to a one-horse-town, much of what is published in mass-market is the same thing over and over again. I pretty much stopped reading altogether for nearly a year. If you're a reader, you know what that means. I was frustrated and bored with what I was reading. The Clockwork Phoenix are a doorway into more. I've figuratively followed Mike Allen around the literary world like Donna Noble following the Doctor, and have discovered Cat Valente, Gemma Files, Saladin Ahmed, John Grant... whole new worlds to explore.

The most important thing about these anthologies is that the stories are approachable. I was afraid to move on into this other realm of reading because I assumed those works were to fancy for me, that I wouldn't understand what I was reading. Not so, here.

I am a dishrag weaver. You, Mike, are a loom-breaker, finding new ways to use these old tools. That's why I like the Clockwork Phoenix so much.

[My note: I absolutely do not agree with Elizabeth's assessment of herself as a dishrag-weaver. However, I'm delight to put "loom-breaker" on my resume. Thanks, Liz!]

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[User Picture]
On August 2nd, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC), livejournal commented:
August 3, 2012 Links and Plugs
User charlesatan referenced to your post from August 3, 2012 Links and Plugs saying: [...] Allen interviews Elizabeth Campbell [...]
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