author tools


anthologize logoRecently, I became aware of a new tool for authors called Anthologize.  Anthologize is a WordPress plugin created as part of the One Week One Tool project at George Mason University in Washington DC.  According to the press release accompanying the launch of Anthologize,

. . . [the] project was inspired by the model of rural “barn-raisings” to bring twelve dynamic individuals to CHNM with the mission to create, build, and release a digital tool useful to humanities scholars in seven days. The project offered the team a short course in the principles of open source software development, collaborative project management, and community outreach. The project’s team included professors, graduate students, recent undergraduates, museum professionals, librarians, and digital humanities staff.

In a nutshell, Anthologize lets authors quickly gather information from blogs and combine it with their own posts to create electronic documents, published in a variety of formats including PDF and ePUB.  Inside the tool, you can set up projects which consist of “parts” (chapters) and items (“content”).  These can come from your own posts or be imported via feeds from other sites.  You can drag and drop items to any place within the project.

anthologize plugin

The strength of the tools is that it leverages all of the WordPress capabilities in terms for pulling together a rich variety of content. and provides an organizational structure well suited to a book.  While powerful, the tool isn’t perfect.  A review by Teleogistic flagged some of its weaknesses – e.g. in the export process.

None of these export processes are perfect. Some require that certain libraries be installed on your server; some do not offer the kind of layout flexibility that we like; some are not great at text encoding; etc. This release is truly an alpha, a proof-of-concept.

However, the reviewer acknowledges that the tool is a potent framework for further development in the world of independent authorship, publishing, and distribution.

According to the Anthologize website, future plans for the tool include:

  • Importing blog comments into your editing environment and transform them into end notes or footnotes
  • Importing content via URL when an RSS feed is unavailable
  • Maintaining version control of the individual items in a project
  • Creating editions of your electronic documents
  • Providing an annotation interface for adding editorial comments during the crafting process
  • Developing an interface to aid in the construction of document indexes

Anthologize is clearly a major step forward in the evolution of blog to book.  It gives authors a way to organize their blog posts, as well as externally derived information, into a coherent book structure and then publish in formats that are suitable for print or e-book.  One can easily imagine Anthologize becoming a must have base tool for authors that others developers contribute to through complementary plugins – much like the NextGen Gallery plugin has become in the image gallery arena.

anthologize on the iPad

Anthologize can be downloaded and installed from the tool website’s download page, or you can download it from the plugins section on Wordpres.org. Check it out!

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Electric Literature will begin a new venture in microserialization by ‘tweeting’ Rick Moody’s new story, Some Contemporary Characters, from November 30th to December 2nd.  Mr. Moody wrote the story expressly for Twitter. 

Rick Moody  

As Andy Hunter, Editor in Cheif of Electric Literature remarked in his announcement of the Twitter story:   

It is broken into bursts 140 characters or less, each clearly labored over with a precision and lyricism that floored us.

 Rick went head-to-head with the 140 character limitation of Twitter and used it as a source of creative inspiration. It reminds us of the film The Five Obstructions, wherein an artist’s acceptance of an arbitrary constraint leads to innovation. We feel Rick has taken something that could seem gimmicky – “Twitter-fiction” – and created something transcendent.

The Four Fingers of Death book coverRick Moody is one of the most celebrated American writers of his generation.  He is the author of four novels, three collections of stories, and a memoir, The Black Veil which won the PEN/Martha Albrand award for the Art of the Memoir.. In 1994, he published The Ice Storm, which became a best seller and was made into a feature film of the same name, directed by Ang Lee.  His new novel, The Four Fingers of Death will be published in July 2010. He also plays music in The Wingdale Community Singers, whose new album, Spirit Duplicator, is out now.We had the opportunity to ask Rick about Some Contemporary Characters and the challenges this new medium presents to authors.

FPP:  What inspired you to write a Twitter story?

RM:  I think my contempt for Twitter is what inspired it, initially. In general, I think the way to describe the world is to get longer not shorter. Twitter, by virtue of brevity, abdicates any responsibility where real complexity is concerned, because it forbids length. This seemed to me like a challenge, then: how to get complex in a medium that is anathema to complexity and rigor. And a challenge is always thrilling.

FPP:  What is the most difficult part of writing a story 140 characters at a time?

RM:  That’s it’s 140 characters at a time! Is that not difficult enough? It’s very difficult to get real traction and real change into that space.

FPP:  What is essential to carrying the story line in this new species of storytelling?

RM:  I think you have to imply a lot of story because there’s just not that much action you can get into the character-count box. You can’t dramatize a scene so much on Twitter. Or, you have to cut up scenes into the little hunks available. To the extent that you can imply action rather than depicting it, you’ll have more room available for doing other bits of fictive work. Description, dialogue, character, and so on.

FPP:  How does character development change in the Twitter format?

RM:  It didn’t change that much for me. It’s still central to this piece, as it most often is, in my work.

FPP:  Did you create Some Contemporary Characters as a Twitter story originally or take a full blown story and trim it down for the Twitter format?

RM:  It was absolutely written ground up on Twitter, for Twitter, about Twitter, with the character counter page open the whole time, to keep me from going OVER.

FPP:  Would you consider using Twitter as a means to preview future stories for your readers?

RM:  Never say never. But I sort of think that if you mean to use Twitter well you should use it from the start, rather than carving up hitherto existing text to fit into its strictures. That seems slightly obscene to me. It’s cheating.

FPP:  What did you learn as an author from creating “Some Contemporary Characters”?

RM:  That, despite my contempt for Twitter, it IS sort of like writing haiku all day long. And I like writing haiku. Twitter’s brevity, that is, started to have some sublime qualities.

FPP:  Do you think micro-serialized Twitter stories can find a permanent place in literary fiction or is the format too restrictive to be viable long term?

RM:  It remains to be seen, really, because the form is still in its infancy. I’m betting it’s a flash in the pan. I’m betting Twitter itself is a flash in the pan, and that as soon as video is more readily available a lot of these text-based media on the web will be a thing of the past. That’s good, because the word “tweet” is really embarrassing.

FPP:  Are you planning to do more Twitter stories in the future?

RM:  As of right now, I am not. But you never know.


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By almost any reckoning, e-books are a fast growing segment of the book publishing industry.  Many self-published authors and traditional publishers who have been reluctant to publish in e-book format are now considering it.  However, because there are many competing standards, navigating the technical / logistical ins and outs of e-book publishing can seem a bit daunting at first. 

We recently had the opportunity to discuss print to e-book conversion and the outlook for e-books with Virginia Thomas, the Business Development Manager at Olive Technology, a leading provider of eBook conversion services. Virginia has lived and worked in Alaska, Argentina, Oregon, California, Texas, Hawaii, India and Colorado and was previously in corporate sales with Paradigm Engineering.  (One of her favorite book genres is confessional memoirs.)

FPP:  What e-book formats should a publisher consider absolutely essential for their titles?

VT:  Since the arrival of ebooks and eReaders, the number of digital content retailers has significantly increased. Each retailer would want to cover most device formats. Since the two most popular readers, the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader use ePub and Mobi, it is recommended that Publishers should at least have these two formats available.EPUB is an open standard created by the IDPF, and is used on numerous devices such as the Sony Reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Stanza iPhone app. Mobipocket, or .mobi, can be read on the Kindle, but also on a Blackberry, Windows Mobile device, Symbian or Palm device. .azw is Amazon’s proprietary format for the Kindle, for which they provide free conversion when a title is listed in Amazon.com’s eBook store. Like .azw, .mobi can be read on a Kindle, but unlike .azw, it can be sold in a number of distribution channels including Symtio and a publisher’s own website.

FPP:  What steps a publisher should take to prepare for submitting a title for conversion into an e-book?

VT:  Publishers looking at reaching a wide market should first develop a basic idea of planning their marketing and decide on how they would like to take care of the digital rights management. Subsequently, they should identify a reliable technology team that can do a high quality conversion work that can replicate the original book experience into digital format. As they identify the team, the publisher should have their high priority titles organized by the different available format such as hard copy, PDF, Quark Express, InDesign etc. This would allow the conversion team to organize their own conversion steps.

FPP:  What occurs during the process of e-book conversion?

VT:  Depending on the format, the conversion process involves:

  1. Converting the original source format (such as PDF) into a editable format, such (MS Word or HTML)
  2. Reformatting of the editable format so that it can be seamlessly ported into a conversion tool. Depending on the type of book, this step may involve extensive coding to re-create the formatting from the original book. Aspects such as clickable footnotes, endnotes and images are all taken care of in this phase.
  3. The formatted file is then ported into a conversion tool that can then generate the needed extension required. Aspects such as Table of Contents, book details and Metatags are taken into consideration at this phase. (Metatags are information about information—they help identify and position the digital content in order of relevance. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metatags).
  4. An eBook conversion team then takes a thorough line-by-line comparison with the original book to make sure that all the needed formats and expressions have been replicated in the converted book. This is a very important step as it ensures a good reading experience for the reader. Depending on the service provider, a conversion team would have multiple quality checks by different members of the team.

FPP:  What are the most common problems that occur in e-book conversion?

VT:  Formatting errors can come in easily, especially inserting spaces into words. This is why Olive Technology does not rely solely on software for corrections. Olive’s proofreading team pores over every word in the eBooks they convert.

FPP:  What is the typical turnaround time for an e-book conversion?

VT:  Average turnaround time for a 200 page book is 2 working days. However, it may take additional time if there are lots of footnotes and endnotes that require extensive coding of tags or there are lots of images that need to be edited before including in the eBook.

FPP:  How much should a publisher budget for converting a title into the most popular e-book formats?

VT:  This depends on how long the book is, how many titles are being converted in the batch, and how complicated it is to convert. Most conversion companies provide a price per page. The more special formatting, pictures, charts, graphs, sidebars, etc. a work has, the more difficult it is to convert.As for a ballpark, conversion of a 200 page novel with a few illustrations from PDF to EPUB and Mobipocket, Olive Technology would charge $160.

FPP:  What limitations / differences in appearance should a publisher expect when going from print to e-book?

VT:  Because of limitations in the eReaders, it is not possible to enforce the original font types into the eBook formats. However, some eReaders allow the fonts to be changed. Since the reader has options to change the font size to large print or smaller print, there are no set page numbers in an eBook. Also, the style of s Table of Contents is limited to one column. All required images would render as black and white in most eReaders, but in smartphones they can be in color.

FPP:  Do you think we will get to a single e-book standard in the near future?

VT:  That’s the question of the hour. Members of the IDPF would scream “YES! EPUB!,” and the industry has already seen a great adoption of the EPUB format. However, Forrester has said that of the 3 million eBook readers predicted to be sold in 2009, 60% of them are Kindles. While Bbeb may be a dying breed, I think .azw and Mobipocket will be around with EPUB for years to come—especially if Amazon keeps making mobile apps. Unless, that is, Jeff Bezos decides to become an open format fan. That will probably occur the same day Steve Jobs endorses Windows 7.

FPP:  Does having a title in XML format simplify e-book conversion?

VT:  Not necessarily. In fact in our experience the reformatting of DocBookXML can be even more challenging and costly. However, the use of XML allows quicker conversion to any future formats that would be made available.

FPP:  How important are mobile phones in the e-book market now?

VT:  According to research done by Nielsen in 2008, younger people favor the idea of books downloadable to mobile phones or iPods over eReaders or PCs (A third of 16-30 year olds compared to 23% of over 30s). The mobile phone market share is relatively small, but growing. The most popular mobile phone for eBook reading now is the iPhone, which only had 6.5% of the eBook downloads in the first two quarters of 2009. However, in a November 1 report the research firm Flurry predicted that with thousands of eBook apps being produced, the iPhone will be in a serious position to steal market share from the Kindle in reading the way it stole from the Nintendo DS in gaming.F

PP:  How do you see the e-book market evolving in the next 3-5 years?

VT:  With the fast adoption rate and decrease in price of eReaders, the only certainties I see are growth, increasing involvement of Google, and device convergence. According to Association of American Publishers, eBook sales have grown by more than 300% in last 2 years. While eBooks are still a small portion of book sales, they more than tripled from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009, and the exponential growth is predicted to continue.

Also, I think it’s a matter of time before foldable/flexible mobile devices cause device convergence to occur. The problem now is that eBook readers are too big to be phones, and phones are too small to read on without a whole lot of scrolling. However, when mobile phone manufacturers roll out devices that can be folded or unfolded to the size of a phone or eReader, consumers will probably opt for the convenience of only carrying around one device. Motorola is said to be hard at work on their line of flexible devices.


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Nick BelardesAs social media, like Facebook and Twitter, become more embedded into our lives, it seems only natural that writers would begin exploring how to use them as a new literary medium.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem feasible or sensible to consider a service like Twitter as a writing vehicle; after all what can you possibly say in 140 characters.  But, as Sarah Schmelling recently noted in the Huffington Post:

Twitter, too, is full of stories. It may be a cacophony of voices, but you can still easily “follow” someone through the establishment of their problem, rising tension, conflict, climax and resolution. And the trends like “first draft movie lines” can also be narrative entertainment: they’re like the movie scene where someone starts singing and little by little everyone, even that unlikely thug in the corner, eventually joins in.

Like full-blown blogs, Twitter microblogs could emerge as another form of writing in public.  The experiments are well underway.  These projects come in several flavors:

  • Story in chunks – A single author builds the story post by post.  He or she may already have a manuscript, but it gets chunked out a 140 or fewer characters at a time.  Author Nick Belardes has used this approach in his two Twitter novels Small Places and Bumble Square. 
  • Single post, single story – The ultra compressed novel.  An example is novelsin3lines by Félix Fénéon.  This is akin to the first draft movie lines that Ms. Schmelling refers to.
  • Collaborative story seeds -A starting post, followed by a sequence of  Twitter posts contributed by followers.  This process creates a story like one of those school science projects where you grow a crystal in a liquid.  One example is BBC Audiobooks America Twitter novel project.  Here is how it works.  Author Neil Gaiman kicked off the novel with the post:  Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled & said, “We don’t love you anymore.”  Thousands of people have responded with the next possible sentences.  The selected tweets are chosen by BBC Audiobooks and the final result will be posted on iTunes as a free podcast.

neil_gaiman_Twitter_post

For more examples, check out the Read Write Web which posted a nice list of Twitter novels in progress. 

Inspired?  Brandon Mendelson, who has written the Twitter novel The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer, has posted some good advice for wannabe Twitter novelists on TwiTips.  Key among his pointers is to maintain a separate site to provide the story’s updates from where it began and link to this site from the Twitter novel site.

So far, publishers aren’t lining up to sign Twitter novelists.  But as the medium evolves, it could become a good place to try out story ideas and see what can build a following.  Japanese cell phone novelists have shown that novels in short bites can be successful.  (Now, if we could only come up with a better name for this writing form – something that didn’t start with “Tw” and sound like baby talk.)


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neal stephensonThe term Spew refers to the torrent of information spilling out over the Web.  It was an image first conjured up by author Neal Stephen.  Today the term could serve equally well as a description for the tsunami of tweets pouring forth from Twitter-ers across the globe.  Individuals and organizations have discovered many interesting uses for Twitter:

  • A research tool to plug into the raw elements of news stories while they are unfolding –  e.g. the Tehran protests
  • Live blogging at conferences
  • Distributing news stories – e.g. CDC using Twitter to get the news out swine flu
  • Mobilizing customers – e.g. the bakery in San Francisco that updates local customers on when its sumptuous peach pies are coming out of the oven

Top Twitter Tools Exposed & Explained at Lightning Speed

Not to be left out of the Twitter-mania, authors have also started using the tool to support their book development and marketing efforts.

  • Seek assistance with research for your book
  • Build a following that you can direct to your longer blog posts
  • Respond to comments about your book
  • Announce events such as readings, appearances and book signings
  • Delivering sample book content
  • Share news stories (and pictures) related to your book

twitter-toolsA plethora of Twitter apps are now available to make all these task easier.  The most comprehensive list I have found so far is at Mashable.  Want to follow some authors, agents or the publishing industry?  Try this starter list from Maria Schneider’s blog.  And if you want to track and quantify all your tweet followers and activities, there is a list of excellent Twitter analytics tools available at Social Media Today

Enjoy!


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bonsai tree in containerEvery life is a complex story.  Our particular story is shaped by milestone experiences and important relationships whose consequences  unfold over time and ultimately define us like the living sculpture that emerges from the careful prunings of a young bonsai tree   Several sites have built large followings by allowing individuals to share their stories and secrets in a micro-format; in this case a postcard.  Like the dwarf bonsai tree, the art that results is due in part to the constraint imposed by the container.

For authors looking for character sketches or a good idea to build a story around, these sites can be invaluable.  Two of the most notable sites in this regard are PostSecret and Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story.

PostSecret – This is a site where individuals share their ecrets in pubic.  They submit their secrets on a post card and mail it – yes snail mail – to the Post Secret PO box.  The site’s founder, Frank Warren, then pubishes a new batch of secrets every Sunday evening.  Some of the ssecrets are humorous, others naughty, while many touch on very dark areas of the sender’s life experience.  Most individuals have presented their secrets in a compelling and artful fashion.

Postsecret Confessions

Michel Writes Your Life Story – This site is a variant of the postcard theme used by Post Secret.  Individuals tell their story to Michael Kimball, the site’s owner, who then renders a micro-biographysized to fit on the back of a postcard.  According to an interview with Madelaine Brand on NPR, Kimball began doing this in response to a friend’s challenge to turn his writing into performance art.  Kimball demonstrates a knack for extracting the meaningful core of each individual’s story. 

Madeleine Brand life story on postcard

There are many useful toolsto help authors develop character profiles with depth and powerful story ideas .  Drawing on this public psychography may be a productive means to jump start  the imagination.  The sites above reinforce the old adage that truth is often more interesting than fiction.


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gregg-taylor-and-lori-thiessenWe have often discussed the benefits of blogging for authors.  Blogs are a great platform for building an audience while you develop your work.  But blogs can also serve as an excellent vehicle for researching your book, especially when you are tyring to identify and explain new social trends. 

Gregg Taylor and Lori Thiessen have set up a blog to help them gather stories and information for Coffee Shop Office, which details the phenomenon of a new class of mobile entrepreneurs; those individuals you see with their laptops working from coffee shops. 

Both Gregg and Lori are entrepreneurs themselves.  Gregg, through his Vancouver BC based company, Transitions Career & Business Consultants Inc., coordinates public and private sector career planning programs and provides career counselling, success coaching and HR consulting services.   He has a keen sense of the latest workplace and workforce trends and had the idea for the book.  Not so coincidentally, his grandfather started a coffee company in Montreal in the early 1900’s.  Lori writes and provides other contract business services through her own business, Scriptorium Ink.  She has an interdisciplinary background in history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.  She provides the literary prowess and creative flair for the project. 

We recently interviewed Lori about the Coffee Shop Office project and her and Gregg’s experience  with using a research blog.

FPP:  What is Coffee Shop Office about and how did you come up with the idea for the book?

LT:  The Coffee Shop Office is about people using their local caffeinated watering hole as their alternative or even preferred office. Gregg is the brains behind the idea. He was sitting in his local coffee shop and noticed that just about everybody was working away on something, either solo or with another person or people. Gregg is fascinated with new work trends and wanted to investigate this one further.

Gregg asked me to come on board and help him with the research and writing. Plus it’s just more fun having someone else to work with.

FPP:  What motivated you to set up your site and blogs as part of the book project?

LT:  Setting up a website and the blogs seemed a no-brainer because much of our lives, social and business, are being carried out online. We wanted to connect firsthand with people who were using the coffee shop as their alternative or preferred office, and hear about their experiences. That’s why there is a link on the website and the blogs to our online survey. We want to capture as much raw data on this work trend as possible.

Gregg also felt that packaging the research material into manageable chunks, like posts of about 350 words, would make the book writing process a bit less daunting. We’ve been finding out that blog writing and book writing are two different animals. Writing the posts have been useful though, as a way to really focus in on a particularly juicy piece of information.

FPP:  You how have two blogs. How does each of your blogs help you gather research for the book?

LT:  When Gregg and I first started working on this project, I was constantly attracted by information outside of the scope of the coffee shop office topic. For instance, I am a history buff and became a bit obsessed with the history of coffeehouses until Gregg pulled her back to the 21st century coffee shop.

All this information was fascinating for both Gregg and I. It seemed a shame to ‘waste’ it so the caffeculture blog was born. It encapsulates all the meta-topic stuff to do with coffee, like coffee culture around the world.

FPP:  What has the response been from your readers?

LT:   Our readers have been very supportive and kind. The comments have been very positive with people chiming in about their own coffee shop experiences which is what we were hoping for.

FPP:  Were you surprised by some of the things you’ve learned from readers?

LT:  I have been somewhat surprised, but gratified that many of the readers come from Britain, Australia and Europe as well as Canada and the US.

One Coffee Shop Office blog reader wrote in this wonderful advice about how to secure your computer data when working remotely. Neither Gregg nor I are really up on the tech-side of cafe commuting so it was a great piece of information to receive.

FPP:  Has the site been effective in connecting you with the media?

LT:  It hasn’t been nearly as effective as we had hoped initially. But the online world is full of people wanting their project, product, etc. to be noticed so it’s all about jockeying for attention through search engine optimization.

However, we have been delighted with the number of people who have picked up on our blog and promoted us to their readers. 

FPP:  Have you used the site as a marketing platform, and if so, how effective have you found it to be thus far?

LT:  At this point, Gregg and I haven’t really been fast-tracking the marketing side of the project. We’ve been engulfed by researching and writing.  However, we will be taking the marketing full-throttle in the next while, and the website and blogs will play an important role.

FPP:  Are there any other things you would do (or do differently) to gather research on a future book project?

LT:  Not really. Research is, by its very nature, a time-consuming task and covers a wide range of media. We sift through blog sites, websites, article indexes, newspapers (both local and international), books, social media and mainstream media to thoroughly know our topic. There is always something more to learn. We also had a librarian friend do an article search for us that provided some great foundational concepts such as “third spaces”, the idea of community spaces where people connect outside of home and office.

FPP:  What advice would give authors about using a blog for book research?

LT:  Do it. You never know when someone will provide you with a different view of your topic that may lead you into something really exciting. But always double check the information if you can. There are many knowledgeable people out there, however, not everyone possesses reliable information. If you can’t verify the information, then don’t use it in your book. It’s your name on the book and your reputation on the line.

FPP:  What is the next step for Coffee Shop Office?

LT:  Keep on writing the book and marketing the heck out of this project to publishers. And Gregg mentioned something about total media domination … Then settle down for a nice, celebratory cuppa joe!

Want to know more about Coffee Shop Office or share your own coffee house commuting stories?  You can contact Gregg and Lori at coffeeshopoffice@gmail.com.


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