Category Archives: Publishing

Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook Update

Two years ago today, I published the first incarnation of Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. (It was incomplete back then, heh.) Every summer, I like to go through it and make changes where I can. This time around, I decided to add a new lesson on games with infinite strategy spaces, like Hotelling’s game, second price auctions, and Cournot competition. I have correspondingly added some content to the MOOC version. Videos below.

Initially, I was hesitant to add more material to the textbook because Amazon’s fee increases as the file size of the book increases. Yet, the size of the textbook shrunk because I cut down on unnecessarily wordy sentences. (Switching “is greater than” to “beats” probably chopped off 300 words from the book.)

The optimistic interpretation: Readers now learn more while reading less!

The pessimistic interpretation: I really, really need to work on writing shorter sentences.



How to Format Images for Kindle

Formatting images for Kindle is a huge drag. The official KDP FAQs are laughably underdeveloped here, basically telling you that the four most common image types are supported (gee, thanks!) and not much else. Personally, I have completely redone the images in my textbook Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook at least three times now, most recently because the way Kindle compresses images changed without any notice. I am writing this post to impart my knowledge on you.

Here are the most important time/money saving tips:

  1. This process is going to suck. You will think you are doing everything right, then the Kindle uploader will find a way to completely screw you over. An image will stop appearing. The image will appear blurry. Your document size will suddenly explode. You will become unbelievably frustrated at some point. Accept it now, and understand you will likely have to do some experimentation to fix these problems later.
  2. Kindles (and the .mobi file extension) were created to display text. Images were very clearly an afterthought. However pretty your image looks on your computer screen, it is not going to look nearly as pretty once you have uploaded it. Sorry.
  3. Do not use fine lines in your images. To compress file sizes, KDP evidently eliminates random lines of pixels from your images. If parts of your image contain lines that are only one or two pixels thick, those lines may magically disappear in the final version. In other words, make your images as blunt as possible. You can’t control which lines disappear, but that will not matter much if no single line is crucial to the image as a whole.
  4. By extension, if your image contains words, be careful which font you use. I originally used Cambria in many of my game theory payoff tables, but Cambria has a lot of numbers and letters with very thin lines. (The middle part of an e has this feature, for example. Without that middle line, you are looking at a c.) I switched over to Franklin Gothic Demi. It is blocky and ugly in PDFs. But Kindle is not PDF world. Blocky texts look great in Kindle world. You can also consider bolding other fonts to manually create blockier text.
  5. Do not create images larger than what you are using for your final product. In the normal publishing world, you should blow up all of your images, save them as large files, and shrink the dimensions once you have put them in the file. This ensures that the dpi (dots per inch) of the images remains large, which is important for printing purposes. But Kindle world is not the normal world. Following normal advice leads to two problems. (1) Kindle will randomly decide to remove lines of pixels, creating the problem described above. (2) Kindle will retain the larger file size, thus increasing the size of the document without changing the quality of the image on the screen. This means you will be unnecessarily paying greater delivery costs.
  6. You should also compress your images. To do this, I use IrfanView, which is the greatest image cropping software ever created. Simply paste the image into IrfanView and press “s” to save. When you choose to save as a JPEG, it will give you a range of quality options from 0 to 100. I suggest selecting 50 here, which is in line with KDP file size control guidelines. If you choose a smaller amount, the colors of the image will start to bleed into one another. Anything more hardly changes the observable quality of the image in the Kindle but sucks up file space. (And we want to shrink this to save on delivery costs.)
  7. Finally, some basic infromation: If you are writing your book on Word, you need to use the INSERT -> PICTURE command. If you copy/paste an image directly into the document, the image has a nasty tendency of disappearing when you upload the book. If you have a lot of images in your book, I suggest adding this to Word’s quick access toolbar.

Following these guidelines has decreased Game Theory 101‘s delivery costs by $0.03. While that might not seem like much, if you sell eight copies a day, that’s almost $90 over the course of the year. It has also increased the attractiveness of the book, which one would imagine correspondingly increases sales.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips, and I will be glad to add them here.

How to Make Your eBook Look Real Instantly

Here’s an annoying problem e-publishers face. I have a book, Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. It’s a really awesome book. But it’s also completely digital. As such, I can’t do promotional images of a book. All I have is a two dimensional cover:

I think I have a cool looking cover. But it would be really nice to have a physical book for promotional images.

As luck would have it, I accidentally found a way to accomplish this when I wrote my previous blog post. I wanted to create a promotional image for the book that wasn’t just the cover. After playing around for a while, I eventually got to this:

Looks pretty nice, right? The best part of it is that it is (mostly) a default setting in PowerPoint, so it is extremely easy to replicate on your own. Here’s how to do it for yourself in a few simple steps:

1) Grab the original image of your cover. This process isn’t going to turn a sucky book cover awesome, so I hope you already have a decent one to start with.

2) Open up Microsoft PowerPoint. Paste the image into a blank slide. (I’m using the 2007 edition here, which is still pretty standard. I’m not sure if it works on 2003 or 2010. I suspect these settings did not exist in the 2003 edition. They probably exist in the 2010 edition, but I have no clue if they are still default settings.)

3) Click once on the image. This should make a Format tab appear in the tabs bar. Click on it.

4) Click on Picture Effects, go to Presets, and choose preset number 10 (pictured).

5) You now have an image of your book that looks like it is a physical copy. You can right click to save the picture or just copy and paste it into the image editing program of your choice.

You can also make some further edits to tailor the image to your liking. For example, I made two changes to my final image. To access the options, right click on the image and select Format Picture. I removed the transparency by clicking on 3-D Format, selecting Material, and choosing Warm Matte. Also on the 3-D Format menu, I changed Depth to 15 pt. This makes the book look a little bit thicker.

Even with these additional changes, the entire process takes under a minute. I think the end product looks great, and I hope this you sell a few more copies of your book.

Excerpt from Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook

With school starting once again, I thought it was time to do some updating to the greater Game Theory 101 enterprise. Here’s the updated version of lesson 1.1 of Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook. Enjoy.

How to Get More (And Better) Book Reviews

We all know book reviews are important–they generate publicity and improve the reputation of your book on Amazon. But getting good book reviews is not easy, especially when trolls exist. So how do you encourage more people to write reviews of your book without breaking Amazon’s terms of service? Here’s an easy method: ask.

Step 1: Put Your Email Address in Your Book
Some people do not do this. I think there are three rationales:

1) People think their email addresses are private. Newsflash: your email is not your home address. Email is the softest of all possible contact mediums. If you don’t want to respond, you simply delete the email. No one can effectively harass you, because you just report it as spam. Done. (By keeping it private, you are also making it more difficult for media to contact you. That is a bad thing.)

2) People are worried that spam will fill up their inbox. Newsflash: get Gmail. There is no need to do silly things like “email me at williamspaniel AT gmail DOT com” anymore. My email address (as a hyperlink) appears all over the internet. I receive virtually no spam. You will receive virtually no spam as well.

3) People are worried they will be overwhelmed with fan mail. Newsflash: this is a very good thing. But you won’t be overwhelmed. I have sold more than 25,000 books in under a year (with my email address right at the front of the book), and I get about one or two messages a week. That is more than manageable.

Step 2: Wait for Emails
This is probably the hardest part, because you just have to sit and wait for the emails to come in.

Step 3: Respond to Emails
Take five minutes, understand what the reader is saying and what he or she is asking, and construct an intelligent response.

Step 4: Ask for a Review
If the reader responded positively to your work, simply end the email like this:

I am glad you enjoyed the book. Thank you for your feedback, and I always appreciate it when my readers post reviews on Amazon.

Readers will do this for you, especially when you are kind enough to respond to their questions. The best part is that you can be selective of whom you solicit for comments. If the reader is raging at you, you do not mention the review. If he or she really likes you, you do. The reader wins because he gets to hear directly from you. You win because you get a five star review.

Fighting Piracy

I had my game theory textbook pirated today on Scribd. This was the first time that ever happened. The DMCA takedown notice did not take long to write, and Scribd removed the book within eight hours. Overall, it was a painless but not so fun diversion.

Anyway, I doubt I would have noticed it at all had I not set up a Google alert. Essentially, Google sends you an email whenever a new website pops up using the search terms you desire. If you have your name or your book title set up in the alert, you will know within 24 hours when something like this happens. It is a free and easy way to fight piracy, so I strongly suggest you set up an alert for yourself.

The A La Carte Age of Textbooks

Apple’s textbook announcement from a couple months ago turned out to be a big bust. The new era of textbooks will not be about making the biggest, fanciest, or flashiest work around. This is the era of customizability.

Look at the textbooks on your bookshelf. They likely cost you $50 or more. But, honestly, how many of them have you read cover to cover? Probably not very many, if any at all. For the most part, these thousand page behemoths are useful for three or four chapters. Yet, when you purchase the book, you also must buy another twenty irrelevant chapters. And that sucks.

Now that we have a digital platform to work with, it is time to change the philosophy of textbooks. Yes, we can all keep publishing our thousand page behemoths. But we should also publish every chapter individually. Thus, students who purchase our textbooks buy exactly what they need and nothing more.

This model is impossible for the mass-produced paper model. A twenty chapter textbook would turn into 21 versions—one for each chapter and an all-inclusive edition. Publishers simply cannot anticipate consumer demands and produce the appropriate quantity of each version. So we are stuck with one pricy version.

Digital publishing does not face such constraints. For example, I have written three chapters of my Game Theory 101 textbook. The first chapter, Game Theory 101: The Basics is available all by its lonesome. (It’s also been Amazon’s best selling game theory book every month since July 2011—the month of its release.) So is the second chapter: Game Theory 101: Extensive Form. And the third chapter: Game Theory 101: Advanced Strategic Form Games. Students can purchase exactly what they need and nothing more. Or, they can purchase everything for a discounted price. The important thing is that the decision is in their hands, not the publisher’s.

If anything, Apple’s textbook announcement seemed to go in the opposite direction. iBooks still lives in a world that thinks ISBNs are necessary. I’m not sure what purpose an ISBN serves in 2012 when I can simply Google a title and find the book that way.

Actually, I take it back. I know exactly what purpose ISBNs serve: bureaucracy! A single ISBN costs $125. You can purchase 10 for $250, or $25 a piece. Regardless, ISBNs make a la carte textbooks unnecessarily expensive, as the publisher has to purchase a unique ISBN for each individual version. So Apple is going to be sitting this revolution out until it kills its ridiculous ISBN policy.

Death to the ISBN! Viva la a la carte!