- by Dara Girard
I’m an independent software developer and I teach Computer Science at the University of Manitoba (in Winnipeg, Canada). I worked as a software developer for about 10 years before taking up teaching. I’ve worked on a variety of things, including software for vehicle transmissions.
Outside of work I have a lovely wife and three boys, aged 12, 8 and 4. They keep me rather busy but I still find time for my (main) hobby, which is photography. It does help that having three active boys gives me plenty of subject material!
I started ZappTek, in 2002, as a venue for my software development endeavors after I took the teaching position at the University. I tend to work on applications that interest me, but I don’t consider an application to be complete unless other people are using it – there is the satisfaction of having people’s lives made easier due to something you’ve created, along with the critical feedback that always makes your applications better. ZappTek gives me that outlet.
Why did you decide to create Legend Maker?
That is a long story. It all started with iPresent It, an application for taking presentations and putting them on (older) iPods so that you could give a talk using nothing more than an iPod connected to a projector. Michael Stackpole (a Science Fiction author) contacted me about using it to create books that could be read on the then new iPhone/iPod touch (he needed some additions so that each slide would be a page of a book that could be read using the iPod’s Photos app).
This was before you could make apps for the iPhone so this was the only way of getting books on the device. Michael has always been forward thinking when it comes to ebooks and he suggested that I look into ebooks for the iPhone. This seemed like a great idea so when Apple made it possible to create apps, Michael and I immediately started working on a way to sell books for the iPhone. In fact, we were the first to sell books for the iPhone – you can still find our books in the App Store if you search for “ZappTek Legends” via iTunes.
To support this I developed a suit of tools for taking book materials and producing a book that could be sold via iTunes. As Amazon released their Kindle app and Apple came out with iBooks, it became clear that the days of selling books as apps were quickly coming to an end. Since I had the tools for making ebooks and all of the authors I worked with loved the simplicity, I thought it would be great to make it available as a product. It took a bit of work to make it user friendly (the interface is always the hardest part and since it was originally just for me, I could cut a lot of corners), but in the end Legend Maker was born.
With iSpeak It an author can convert any document into MP3 audio tracks. Can you tell us more about that?
Well, this was another one of those side projects that started with a request. My first ZappTek product was iPDA, a way of getting your information onto an iPod without having to use iTunes. It includes a lot of options for creating text notes for reading on the go (remember, this was before the iPhone, so it was “amazing” up to four years ago). People that used iPDA started asking for the ability to listen to notes instead of reading them. Being a Podcast/Audiobook listener, this seemed like a great idea to me.
What iSpeak It does is take any text (from a document, website, etc) and use a Mac’s text-to-speech engine to create a spoken version. Modern voices are actually pretty good (not great, but good) so you can get reasonable renditions of text. I’m not sure you could listen to it for hours on end, but for a commute to work it’s definitely usable.
You focus on creating software for Apple products. What is it about this platform that draws you?
First, I use Macs every day – I’ve used, and developed software for Windows many times (including for some of my teaching work) but the Mac is just better when you want to focus on working instead of “futzing” with the computer. Second, from a software developer point of view, the Mac uses Unix under the hood, which provides all sorts of functionality that makes our lives easier.
I’ve been asked (many times) about creating a version of Legend Maker for Windows. The simple fact is that I can’t. At least not a version that creates ebooks of a quality that you and I would be happy selling to people. The Mac provides functionality that ensures that we have high quality formatting within our ebooks. This is something that’s simply not available for Windows. If it was, I’m sure I’d work on a Windows version of Legend Maker.
With your software a lot of authors can use audio and/or video files to enhance their fiction. Do you see a number of authors doing this? Why or why not?
This is something that only works with iBooks for the iPhone and iPad (although I think the Nook and Kindle will include support soon). As such, this is currently limited to authors wanting to sell to the iBooks crowd. The use has been for adding ambient music to a book but I have seen authors using it to add opening “trailer” videos and commentary (both audio and video).
In the end, it’s about using ebooks to provide value above and beyond what you can get in a paper book. It’s just like including hyperlinks to your site, it may not be much but it’s a great value add and gives your readers another avenue to you and your material – anything that draws the reader in increases the likelihood of them becoming a fan for life. And that fireside chat where the author talks about the making of the book? As a reader, it’s so cool to listen to your favorite author talking about a book you love.
Having said that, I’m sure your readers can come up with much more creative uses for audio and video in a book!
Can you tell us more about current and future products?
Right now I’m in “playing” mode. There are a number of small things I’d like to add to Legend Maker. Other than that, I’m toying with some ideas for iPad apps. They may not come to anything, but they should be fun!
You encourage authors to use Legend Maker to create their ebook files, but you also offer an ebook conversion service for a very reasonable fee. What would you like potential clients to know?
If you don’t have a Mac but would like to see how easy it can be to make an ebook, I can work with you to create an ebook using Legend Maker. Preparing a book is really easy – if it’s in Word (or the equivalent) you’re probably 90% of the way there. We can create a small sample ebook and if you’re happy with the result we can start producing ebooks that you are able to sell anywhere you like. If you visit http://www.zapptek.com/legendmaker/, we have a sample short story (and manuscript) available so that you can see what’s required from you and what the ebook would look like when finished.
If you’re interested please email me [mzapp (at)zapptek.com] and I’ll send you the details on how to get started.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Great questions! This is an extremely exciting time in the world of books. If you’re concerned about the complexity of getting into ebooks, don’t worry. My goal with any software I write, is to make people’s lives easier. Any author can easily create a high quality ebook. A great place to get started is with your back catalogue of books your readers can’t get elsewhere.
I’d also like to suggest that every author think long and hard about ceding electronic book rights. With places like Amazon paying 70% of royalties it’s hard to accept much less than that. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions: 1) how much does editing cost (and can I get it on my own), and 2) how much marketing is really being done for me?
Find out more about Michael and his company at his website.