CoverA few days ago, I mentioned that Jeffrey A. Carver had posted the first novel in his Chaos Chronicles series, Neptune Crossing, on his web site as a free e-book. I also mentioned that his plans included making all three of the novels currently in that series similarly available, to build publicity for the publication of the fourth. The second novel in the series, Strange Attractors, has now been posted to Carver’s download page—but that is not all.

When Carver posted the first novel, someone started a thread in the Mobileread freebies forum about it, and shortly afterward Carver himself joined in. Before long, a number of Mobileread forum regulars had volunteered to convert the book into other formats for him. As a result, both books are currently available in html, MobiPocket, eReader, RTF, PDF, LRF, LIT, and ePub formats. (There is now another Mobileread thread about Strange Attractors as well.)

And as it happens, I was one of those volunteers: I polished the markup of the eReader version. I took the raw output of a Word-to-eReader script, then went in and reformatted it for better readability—adding chapter headers (and thus a table of contents), “smart” quotation marks, the cover illustration, and so on. I did this for both Neptune Crossing and Strange Attractors, and will be doing it for The Infinite Sea as well.

Carver has lately revealed that he has come to an agreement with Tor to publish the fourth book in the series, The Sunborn, as a Tor e-book through their arrangement with Baen (though he retains the option to give it away for free, as well).

Even speaking as one of them, it is great to see so many Mobileread regulars willing to volunteer their time and effort to help authors convert their works to as many formats as possible. Some posters in the threads have suggested that Mobileread could be promoted as a resource for other authors looking to do the same thing.


  1. Thank-you Chris for the time and effort you put into formatting eReader e-books. Most of the e-book files I read are generated by computery transformatizing configuramators (Manybooks & FW’s multiformat), and it is so rare to see a book that even manages to have the right amount of chapter breaks in the right places, let alone any more advanced form of prettyfication. Nicely formatted eReader books are a blessing, and I *really* appreciate people who infuse a little TLC into making hand-crafted e-books.

    And if you have time to answer them, I have a few questions regarding that. Do you format translators need any additional help? Are there are guides and/or tools that would help newbies get into making e-books that look decent and don’t suffer from excessive below-the-surface machinespeak? If so, where can we share our beautiful eReader creations? If not, in what other ways can someone like me help out?

  2. As for whether the reformatters need additional help, I would suggest heading on over to Mobileread and asking there.

    As for guides or tools, well, the only ones I really ever needed were the PML reference pages on eReader’s website, and a text editor. Never saw the need to invest in eReader’s fancy automatic conversion software when I could get just as good results by hand. (But then, I also taught myself to code basic HTML by examining my lynx bookmarks file way back when.)

    PML is really a simplified form of toggle-on, toggle-off tags, like HTML. It has a few quirks (like the toggle-off for centering having to be on a line by itself) but you can learn those pretty quickly and work around them.

    Most of what I do, I do by search-and-replace logic. Any double quotation mark that comes after a space, a carriage return, or an italic or bold toggle will always be a left-double quote, and once you’ve replaced all those quotation marks with the left-quote symbol, any double quotation mark that is left will automatically be a right-double-quote.

    Single-quotes are trickier because the same symbol is also an apostrophe and can also be used to denote foreshortened words. Unless there’s a lot of nested quoting in a book (or it’s British), it’s generally simplest just to do a manual find on each instance of “‘ or space-‘ and replace the opening and closing ‘ marks by hand.

    I also search-and-replace any double-hyphens with emdashes, and any triple-periods with ellipses, and so on. Then I compile it into a book, see how it looks, make any necessary changes, read through it, fix any errors, and recompile every so often, until I’m done.

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