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Caution: Super-Long and Pseudo-Techie.

Preface: Apple has a brand new application, released Jan 2012, called iBooks Author which allows you to write books and have them available (sell or free) on iBooks. As iBooks Author is free, naturally it comes with restrictions. One, it needs the latest operating system – OS X Lion, two, content created using iBooks Author can only be published via iBooks and read only on an iPad. So, you need an iPad to read an iBook created via iBooks Author. You with me so far?

My Story: Being a creative geek completely in love with the arts and partially in love with technology, I decided to write a book using iBooks Author – a children’s book, naturally. I diligently read up on all the sites, blogs, and forums, about the application, but as it is relatively new, not much user-info is out there. There is a lot of talk on either how cool it is or the sneaky-Apple-ownership of authors’ intellectual-rights. But this blog post is not about that; you can read those on your own.

[I provided a few links to get you started, although I do think Apple has since revised its agreement.
- Apple announces free iBooks Author OS X app for publishing books to the App Store
- Are digital interactive textbooks and the means to create them finally here?
- iBooks Author revealed, free to download
- The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA
- iBooks Author: You Work For Apple Now
- If you publish with iBooks Author, does Apple 'own' you?]

Getting to my core story: iBooks Author is definitely a super cool application that is ‘relatively’ easy to learn and use. The best part is the ease of embedding interactive elements (videos, photo galleries, 3D elements) AND have them work with the text. iBooks Author definitely makes it quick and easy to produce books.

[A tiny digression: I remember the time when Dreamweaver came out (didn't like FrontPage too much), and that was right after I learned to build websites from scratch using HTML. I was like, "You really mean I can drag and drop? Wow, how cool is that?" iBooks Author is kinda like that.

Having produced a Children's book using iBooks Author, I can say with confidence, that it is much more applicable to create text-books, just like Apple advertised. Duh! But as my Doctoral Adviser said to me today on a completely unrelated topic: 'Lav, you are the explorer of the group. That is your M.O. You go where people dread to go." Damn! Is that being brave or being stupid, or perhaps a bit of both? I shall take that as a compliment and get going. Hopefully my exploration will lead me to stumble upon something profound one day!]

Almost the core story: I have never sold/given-away/uploaded anything on the App store or iBooks, etc. I have only bought things. So I created a ‘Free’ account as I had decided to give this book for free. The book I created has interactive elements and lots of pictures. The text is in two languages, English and Italian. The English of course is flawless, I put the Italian text as a place-holder —  I was going to edit it with the help of a native Italian speaker.

The manuscript can only be previewed by connecting the iPad to the Mac — fair-enough I say, as that is the medium of delivery. However, I needed a few facts checked by a person who happens to live in another country. iBooks Author allows you to PDF the manuscript which, while fantastic, only allows a static version. I wanted this person to see and comment on the dynamic version — after all, that is what the software is all about! I tried to send the file with the .iba (iBook Author) extension but it was too big, thanks to all the heavy interactive elements. And emailing the PDF version was just not going to work, not for what I wanted to accomplish.

So, I came up with a fantastic plan. I was going to upload it to iBook store, and have that person download and view it on the iPad, and then we could discuss relevant changes etc. I jumped through a few hoops with cover-art pixels and such, but managed to upload it. I got the conformation – ‘Delivered’ – displayed on iTunes Producer (another free software I needed to download and use to ‘package’ and ‘ship’ my book). As I waited for the book to appear on iBooks – I was only checking it every two minutes – I browsed the forums to see what the process, procedure, and timeline was for free books. Didn’t find any info!

Here’s the cover …

Core story: Now, if you remember, the Italian text was a placeholder. I needed to edit it. I reopened the iBooks Author application, went to ‘Open Recent’ but there was nothing there – it said ‘Clear Menu’. A bit confused, I went to ‘Open an Existing File’ and searched the file folder where I had saved it, and it wasn’t there either. Then I looked through a few more folders, thinking that I might have accidentally dragged it somewhere, or hid it somewhere, but nope, there was nothing. It had disappeared. Poof!

So I sent an email to ‘support’ from the main Apple page explaining my dilemma. I got a long reply about how happy they are that i contacted them but they can’t help me and i need to contact a different department and that I should feel free to contact them again.

My name is Greg and I am happy to help you today. I want to let you know that if you require any further assistance after reading this email, please respond and let me know. Your response will go straight to the top of my inbox.

I understand that you are having an issue with a file missing from iBooks Author. I can certainly understand why you feel concern over this and I’ll be glad to address this issue for you.

Please note I am on the iTunes Store Customer Support team. My team can answer non-technical questions about Mac App Store billing issues, accounts, store content, downloading purchases, and related topics, but we can’t answer technical questions about iBooks Author. For assistance with the issue you’re experiencing, I urge you to consult the following website:

Well, so much for top of the inbox! In the meantime, I get an email from Apple saying that my book is now on iBooks (So that’s how it works!) The email included a link which took me to my iTunes Producer account. I find that there is a ticket that needs to be resolved. Apparently there is an error, something to do with the page numbering. Well, I didn’t number the pages, the iBooks Author did.  The issue was that I used the ‘Preface’ template as the THE END page of the book. It’s ‘Preface’, duh! I guess I have to use the templates in the way they tell me, but they didn’t have a ‘THE END’ template. Anyway, I reply to that email and reiterate my dilemma: “What happened to my source file?”.

I get a prompt reply:

Once a title had been successfully uploaded to us and is live in the iBookstore, certain changes to the metadata (i.e. book title, subtitle, author name, category and/or book description) need to be requested and made through us.  Please provide us with the Apple ID(s) and/or ISBN(s) of the book(s) in question along with the requested metadata changes so we can file a ticket to make the changes for you.

I replied back saying, “I understand you have to change the metadata, but I need to edit the content, and cannot find my source file. Did the iBooks Producer, in the process of compiling and uploading, delete my source file? I need my source-file as I need to make important changes.”

I am waiting to hear back from them.

Lessons Learned: 1)Take your Mac and iPad with you everywhere if you need to show your work to someone. If they are overseas, you need to fly there. 2)There is an option called ‘Save a Version’. I’m not sure what will happen to that version once the original version is gobbled up by the iTunes Producer. I obviously haven’t tried it but I suppose it’s worth a shot. 3)Upload only when it is 100% done (if there is something like a 100%).

Postscript: Since I’m not a techie I might be wrong in assuming that a source file should not disappear. The lack of being able to make revisions and edits to the original file is a major drawback, given that the application is geared towards creating textbooks where information on certain subjects is in constant flux. But then, what do I know!

In the meantime, my book is available on iBooks for everyone to view.Look for the title – My trip to the Carnival in Italy – in the iBooks store on your iPad. It’s free – read, enjoy, and have a laugh!

Life is nothing, if not an adventure!! :)

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