Today I am releasing an ebook/pdf titled 'Thoughts from the Peasant Muse'. It contains 23 essays, most of which originally appeared here on my blog. I've decided to sell it through Gumroad, and for the price of $3 (or more if you feel generous) you will receive epub, pdf, and Amazon compatible versions of the ebook. It contains 55,000+ words spread over 140 pages, and each essay has an explanatory preface that provides background information on what motivated me to write the piece. The topics covered span book reviews, Russian history, digital culture, games, and even a episode review of Boardwalk Empire. In short, there's something for everybody.
Why am I selling essays I've made available for free on my blog? In part, I wanted to gather a compilation of my best pieces as something to hand my committee when I submit my portfolio. I also wanted to see how difficult it would be to create my own ebook- and it turns out it wasn't that hard. But the main reason I wanted to gather my thoughts, place them in a nice format, and sell them is that there are people who enjoy my work- giving them the option to purchase an ebook provides a way for them to directly support me. I will never place ads on my blog, nor will I change the Creative Commons license from its current CC-BY form. I highly encourage anyone to take my work, remix it, change it, do whatever, because I am a firm believer that making one's work freely available for others to use in their own pursuits is one of the greatest contributions that can be made to maintain and grow the cultural commons.
Yet it is an inescapable fact that writing for my blog does cost me time and money. I, generally, enjoy eating and paying my rent. My dogs enjoy eating as well. So I'm offering the one meaningful thing I have to offer- my thoughts.
Now to be clear- every essay contained in this compilation can be freely accessed, here, at Peasant Muse. My other essays that have been published at the likes of Play the Past, The New Inquiry, and The Media Res are also freely available. Nothing is stopping you from gathering these posts and making your own compilation of my work. But I would ask that if you enjoy reading what I write, please consider purchasing a copy of 'Thoughts from the Peasant Muse'. It would mean a lot to me, and it would also help me pay my bills. And eat. And let my dogs eat. My car also needs some work. You get the idea.
So now that you know why I've put an ebook together, I thought it would be a good idea to explain *how* I put my ebook together. (For all the images below, click to enlarge)
I used two programs, Pages '09 and Calibre, to construct the layout of the ebook/pdf and convert it into various formats. Using this template provided by Apple for making ebooks in Pages, I was able to easily make chapters and have a table of contents automatically update as I added more material. There were some issues with using Pages, however. For one thing, the images I used as headers would shift to the left margin, even if I centered the image, when I converted the document into an epub file. After much searching through the forums, I discovered a workaround. After placing the image, (which as to be 'inline' and not 'floating', as epub doesn't support floating images) you have to create a center-justified 'chapter subheading' just under the picture for it to remain in place after conversion.
Other than that, the process of importing text and then setting up block quotes or hyperlinks was incredibly easy. While the template provides an 'index' and other pages, I just made my index section another 'chapter'- and did the same thing for the 'About the Author' page. After I had the layout set up as I liked, I used Pages to convert it into an epub file.
One thing about the cover- using Pages, your cover will not stretch to fill the page. It will instead create a smaller image (because it has to be 'inline' and not 'floating') that makes your cover look small on the various reading devices. Solving this problem is easy though- it involves using Calibre, which was the other piece of software I utilized in making my ebook.
Calibre is a wonderful piece of open source software. It can act as a library for all your various ebooks, and it also syncs with reading devices that are plugged in to your computer. Once I had my Pages-to-epub conversion complete, I would import the epub file into Calibre. One of the better features of Calibre is the ability to convert one type of file into another- although the results will vary if you're using a file type (like pdf) that isn't easily adjustable. Taking my original epub file, I would have Calibre convert it into another epub file. This sounds counterintuitive, but by doing this I could select my own cover image which allowed me to escape the 'small' cover image utilized by Pages.
Calibre also has the ability to convert epub files into Amazon friendly files, which includes the latest AWZ3 file-type along with the older MOBI standard. You can also use Calibre as an ebook reader, and I would often send my working files over to Calibre to be converted and proofed for formatting errors.
For pdf conversions, I just used the default export tool found in Pages. Since pdf files are really just images, you can put in much nicer formatting items like page numbers or lines across the page to separate sections of text. (Epub/Amazon need to be able to adjust the text based on a users desired font size, hence the inability to incorporate nicer formatting styles) You are also given more liberty to play with pictures and their placement into the text with a pdf file, but since I wanted some degree of continuity between the versions I decided to include only minor changes to the pdf version of my ebook.
Now some of you might not have Pages- in that case, I suggest using Sigil. Sigil is another open source software tool used for creating ebooks. It's a little more stripped down UI-wise, but if you are adept in HTML and/or CSS you can pull off much more interesting tricks with your ebook formatting using Sigil.
I should mention one other minor issue using Pages presented; my converted epub file, when displayed on iBook devices, contained hyphenated words. The Amazon file did not, and the pdf didn't as well, but the epub file viewed on iBooks would create hyphenations when the word line exceeded the space provided on the screen. From my own limited knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes, it would appear that Pages epub conversion tool inserts 'soft-hyphens' into the very code of the epub file. I wasn't able to find a way to strip these 'soft-hyphens' out of the file through Calibre, so those who view my ebook on their iPhone or iPad will have to deal with hyphenated words. It doesn't look elegant, but if it bothers people they can just load up the pdf version of the ebook and see nice, clean formatting.
I am almost certain that had I used Sigil to create the ebook text, the hyphenation issue wouldn't be a problem. Live and learn, I guess.
Going through this process only affirmed to me how easy it is to make one's own ebook for all sorts of uses. I know that when I get back to teaching students, I will give them the essays/handouts in this form because 1) it's easy and 2) giving students essential files in formats that they are more likely to use increases the chance that they will actually use them.
So that's about it. If you have questions over anything I've gone over, drop me a line in the comments or through my email (jantley AT gmail DOT com).