Check out my first novel, midnight's simulacra!

Ebooks are hot garbage

From dankwiki

dankblog! 2024-02-11, 0349 EST, at the danktower

Pretty much exactly what the title says.

I did not consider ebooks when writing midnight's simulacra. This was both fortunate and unfortunate: unfortunate because it's proven difficult to make an acceptable ebook after the fact, fortunate because I really like the print version, and it's more important to me than the ebook, and properly designing for an ebook would have delayed or weakened the print version.

But goddamn, a lot of people seem to have suddenly developed allergies to a format that worked just fine for 570 years. And I get it. The last time I moved, it required sixty-plus boxes to move the books. I've now got about twice as many. They cover every surface in my condo along with the majority of the walls. When I travel, they eat precious volume and mass in my bags (then again, I barely own anything besides books, and I hate traveling). The ability to search is admittedly a huge win, as is click-to-define (though the dictionary in my Kindle Paperwhite is trash). That Amazon can reach out and fuck with your shit is completely unacceptable (btw, I know of only one book that Amazon-US refuses to stock, and can thus plausibly be considered a "banned book" in America: The Turner Diaries. No sales from Amazon, and searching for it on subsidiary Goodreads gets "NOTABOOK". This started in 2020, and is some cowardly bullshit). Kindle still can't display characters from certain languages, even if you supply and specify a font that includes the necessary glyphs, which blows my fucking mind.

Anyway, if you want to sell to these people, you need an ebook. And here begins the shit.

If you have any page-oriented material, that has no meaning in a world of reflowable text. If you have footnotes, this means:

  • get rid of them
  • put them at the end of chapter/book, link to them, provide backlink
  • use the necessary incantation to get a popup

of these options, the last seems to me pretty obviously the best. Guess what? Every vendor took the EPUB3 standard, furrowed their brow, and wiped their ass with it. Apple, Amazon, whatever the fuck a Kobo is, even Calibre all went their own way on this issue, leading to monstrosities such as this and gigantic wastes of my time. Even this godawful "solution" doesn't necessarily work, because Amazon insists on heuristics based off a link cycle.

Speaking of Calibre. You tell people, "I wrote a book, now I need an ebook and it's cost me a hundred hours thus far and it totally sucks." They put their hand on their hip, look at you like an idiot, and say "just put your PDF through Calibre," and think they've taught you something. I don't know who's reading this, but unless you're Kovid Goyal, I was using Calibre before your balls dropped. I have code in Calibre. I personally know Kovid, or at least have exchanged hundreds of emails with him. We've discussed his poetry. You don't need to tell me about Calibre.

Not to blame Kovid, who's written a tremendous piece of software in Calibre (and an even better one IMHO in kitty), but putting my PDF through Calibre to generate anything else churns it into complete shit. This is better than pandoc or tex4ht did, because tex4ht crashed and pandoc pegged a core for several hours, producing nothing. Whether this was an infinite loop or just Haskell being Haskell is not for me to know. Now, you can endlessly fuck with the conversion parameters in Calibre, but at some point you're like, "I'll just build the EPUB up by hand, fuck it." EPUB3 is supposedly the future, with support for MathML and HTML5 and CSS and even multimedia and you can probably watch VR porn in an EPUB3 if you can fit it on your Kobo.

You will do this not because it is easy, but because you thought it would be easy. And for most straight fiction it probably is. But imagine, say, House of Leaves. You're going to be moving the field forward.

All the current devices support EPUB3, you gather. There are worrying notes about buggy MathML support, and some older devices don't support EPUB3 at all, and the markup is kinda ass, and you're not quite sure how you'd watch Follow that Bird on a Kindle Paperwhite that has neither speakers nor color and is capable of something like 4 FLOPs on a good day, but you're a game little author and you set out.

Guess what? Kindle does not natively support EPUB3. It "supports" it in that you can upload EPUB3 to KDP, and it'll be converted to AZW3 or MOBI. But stick a raw EPUB3 on your Kindle, and it will not be readable. Does the EPUB3 get converted cleanly to AZW3/MOBI? Who fucking knows? It totally depends on your content. So the largest vendor is still getting a lossy, automated conversion, despite your EPUBbing. It totally sucks. You people killed Jesus.

previously: "writing a book in LaTeX in 2023" 2023-11-29