We launch Episodes 1 and 2 of Valentine in nine days. I'm up to my neck in website building, as well having two music videos in post. That's why I vanished for a couple of weeks: hectic pre-production on a Los Campesinos! music video, plus my mother falling ill just before Thanksgiving, then the video shoot itself on the 29th. But I'm back! I'm mostly finished the website! And I have GOSSIP. But first, AMAZON.
Amazon are such an incredibly frustrating company, because they profess to have touchy-feely intentions, but their attempts to communicate with customers and merchants always come off as billets-doux from the Death Star. I've spent the past two days uploading the twelve language versions each of Valentine Episode 01 and Episode 02 up to the Kindle website. I finish this afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief. Thank heavens that palaver is over. But no! I get home tonight to this:
We are interested in making your title(s) available for customers to purchase in the Kindle Store, but we would like to first confirm that you are certain you are authorized to sell the title(s), and if you are certain that you are, receive documentation from you confirming your authorization. Please reply to email@example.com within 10 days, with your confirmation and with appropriate documentation of your e-book rights for your title(s).I suppose I should take it as a compliment, that Amazon thinks my work looks so professional that Christine and I couldn't possibly have produced it all by ourselves, or that it must have a publisher if it is already in so many languagess? But you would have thought they could work out that the account name, email address and author's name were all the same. They insinuate here:
If you are the author of the title(s) and you have retained the eBook rights to the title(s), please confirm that you are the author of the title and that you have retained the eBook rights to the title, and provide any documentation or other evidence you may have of your ownership (such as a copyright registration number)...that the proof they will accept is copyright registration. Which costs $35 per edition (that's $840 in total, folks!) and will take somewhere around six months to get. Laughably, there is a box one must check on every item you upload for sale in the Amazon store to confirm you have the rights to sell the book. Thanks, Amazon, for doubting I've written my own book, and dumping me in your Orwellian bureaucratic purgatorio! I love you too! Kisses (Glaswegian variety), - A xxx.
Now, on to the fun stuff.
Gossip item numero uno: There's real hope for solo/independent comic publishers with ePub. Right now, the larger e-book stores (such as B&N and Fictionwise) are not easily accessible to us, and anyone without a US bank account can't publish on Amazon. However I recently had a long chat with Mark Coker at Smashwords, and he described how over the next few months they are looking to set up another distribution method, where books are submitted directly as ePubs and not converted by Smashwords.
This would be awesome. One of the most frustrating parts of the e-publishing process for me has been seeing how great Smashwords is for printed-word books, but failing to be able to resolve my image-heavy book with their automatic processor. If I can simply submit my book to them as a pre-prepared ePub, for their usual premium distribution service to all the big e-book stores both in the US and internationally (thanks to hookups with Canadian company Shortcovers), and to the Kindle store, wow! I could reach so many more readers.
Mark didn't give me a timeline, as a lot depends on big companies like B&N becoming fully ePub compliant. But, hopefully, by the summer it will be in place (note: these are my hopes and guesses, not the company's).
Gossip Item numero dos: Turns out a friend of mine from university works at Sony, and she let me see a demo of the new PSP comics application. It's... massively underwhelming. It's pretty much the same sort of flash-based application as Longbox, eg what a French comics publisher would use to put sample pages of new books on their site in 2004.
For reading back issues of already-printed-on-paper superhero comics, it works fine. But for anything other than being an electronic repository of things that first appeared on paper, it fails in a big way. It literally cannot cope with anything other than a scanned comics page, as it first displays the whole page small, then goes on a pre-determined path through the page. While it will be nice for people who already own PSPs to be able to read comics on them, it's hardly a category-killer. Systems like Comixology's app (which now has a website edition, so you don't have to have an iPhone to use their e-comic service) or Robotcomics' Android and iPhone app handles more different kind of comics (print comics, indies, webcomics, and new-model stuff like mine), more better, than the PSP.
Partly, I'm grumpy that there is literally no way Valentine will work on the PSP comics reader. I can't give the sort of immersive user experience I can on an iPhone - or even on a Kindle. I'd either have to create fake comic book pages of four to six panels in Illustrator, or bodge it on a screen by screen basis. For the latter, you'd see each screen singly as a thumbnail floating in space, then the PSP would zoom in to the screen, then a Flashtastic page turn, and zoom out again to a thumbnail-size view of the next screen. User Interface of BARF.
Partly, I'm glad the PSP won't work for my series. You know why? Sony want a 5-year distribution contract for every comic they publish in the PSP store. I nearly dropped my cocktail when my friend told me. That sort of lockup is fine if you're Marvel and appended to a film studio. Bad if you're an independent who would be interested in optioning the film rights to your book.
But, if you have a PSP, and want to read Marvel/DC fare on it, it's acceptable. It's unlikely to drive any sales of PSPs as the comic-reading device of the future, though, and it's not a patch on the iPhone apps that have been developed for comics.
I'm sure there'll be a hack way onto the PSP soon anyway, via another software platform such as Stanza (or even Shortcovers). That's the thing about wireless devices. Their makers can mandate all they want that the comics should go here, and the books should go there, but it's as futile as standing on the seashore and yelling at the tide that it can't come in.
Other stuff: The Valentine website is up. It's my first experience building a wordpress site and, all in all, it's gone pretty well. Please go have a look, try to break it, and if you speak any languages other than English, give me a hand translating it. If there are additional things you would like to see on the site, please suggest them.
More to be added as we get closer to lauch, including (hopefully) an iPhone simulator displaying Episode 01, and the ability to buy the Kindle editions and the ePub editions directly from our site. The Amazon stuff (if I manage to convince Amazon I've actually written the book that has my name on it, dammit) is just a widget and ASIN thing; for the ePub downloads we'll probably use e-Junkie, who seem super-friendly and provide everything I want from a store: secure downloads, customisation, non-Latin alphabet support, micropayments, and friendly customer service. If any of you have experience with micropayment e-comic sales, please share your experiences.
Speaking of ePubs, remember this ePub validator as it will help you enormously in prepping/debugging ePub editions of your comics. The problem is that almost anything works on ADE, but major platforms such as Stanza and the dedicated e-Readers tend to work to a narrower set of standards (no SVG!) so it's crucial to run the validator as well as just opening it up in ADE and seeing if it works. I've been working with some folks at Stanza on getting the Stanza edition of Valentine ready; can't say enough good things about them for being friendly, helpful, and interested in comics.
I should soon have stable ePub and Kindle templates that I can share with you to help you format your own books. I've held back from sharing anything at present until I'm sure they're absolutely bug-proof.
Now, back to the music video edit. Do check out the Valentine website to learn more about my upcoming e-comic series, and as always, you may follow me on twitter or befriend me on facebook.