Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

Apple is making headlines again. I am sure you have heard the buzz that Apple this week rejected Sony’s eBook reader application for the iPhone. Yeah, quite the bummer, I know.

Instantly after it became known that Apple rejected the app people began to discuss the ramifications of that move. It would seem at this point that Apple rejected the app in an attempt to curb in competition for their own iBookstore. It does go a little deeper, however. The issue in question here is that Apple does not want distribution channels to cut them out of the revenue stream. When readers buy books through the Kindle app on the iPhone for example, they buy them directly from Amazon and Apple is seeing not a cent of that transaction.

Apple, with a bit of a sore loser attitude here, wants to change that and the rejection of the Sony reader was based on that issue. Somehow, Sony will have to find a way to channel sales through their reader app through iTunes to make sure Apple will make some money also. They become a middle-man all of a sudden. A quantity no one had counted on, and it certainly won’t make them popular among the distributors or the publishers, especially when this procedure will trickle down to Amazon’s Kindle reader software also — and it will, there I have no doubt.

As an author I am paying Amazon already to sell my book, now I will have to pay Apple on top of it if a reader buys a book through the iOS Kindle reader. Not a very pleasant prospect. If you take a 99 cent book, for example, Apple will take 30% off the top of that, leaving 70 cents for Amazon. Amazon then takes a whopping 70% off the top of that, leaving a ridiculous 20 cents to be paid to authors.

If you take a $2.99 eBook, for example, the monies paid to authors will be a mere $1.46, instead of the $2.10 they would otherwise receive. Notice, how in all these transactions Apple would be to make more money than Amazon, actually, given current royalty structures.

Like I said, Apple is not going to make a lot of friends with this, I guarantee it. And hey, why stop there? An eBook reader is nothing more than a specialized web browser – eBooks are based on on HTML formats – and as such, the purchases themselves are nothing more than web transactions. So, why stop here? Why not force all web transactions to pay its dues to Apple? Imagine how much money you could make if you would skim of monies on top of every transaction initiated through an iOS device… or, what the heck, every Mac even? Yeah, corporate greed is a glorious thing…

A move like the one Apple just initiated is not entirely surprising, however. In their own way, Apple completely botched the iBooks launch, and now comes the knee-jerk reaction to keep stockholders happy. It doesn’t happen very often that the company gets things really wrong, but occasionally it happens, and while iTunes dominates music downloads, their ebook effort simply never took off.

The reasons are manifold, as you’d expect. While they got the royalty thing right — essentially forcing Amazon’s hand to match their 70% rate — the iBookstore as a whole is very publisher and reader-unfriendly.

The fact that you need special software to upload an industry-standard ebook to the store is highly detrimental to the process, especially since it requires an Apple computer. Being a Mac user, for me that is not a problem at all, but I have many author friends who do not take kindly to it — and I can certainly sympathize.

The approval process could be called tedious at best, and it can easily take four weeks for a book to finally show up in the iBookstore. Compare that to Amazon’s, Barnes&Noble’s or Kobo’s 24-hour turn-around and you can easily see that Apple is simply not playing in the same league here.

The same is true for the user experience. In Amazon and Barnes&Noble you can search for books based on a wild range of criteria. In fact, Amazon in particular, has a search engine that compares favorably to Google. With such powerful tools at consumers’ hands, people will always find what they are looking for. And should you be out of luck, you will always stumble across countless other exciting books.

In the iBookstore you are shit out of luck of you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Apple’s search engine does not even allow you to search for partial titles the last time I checked and all too often a search will come up with zero results. Can you imagine all the lost upsell potential that authors are missing here? Or, to put it differently, Apple makes the discovery of authors impossible. For a reader looking for something to read that means that the odds are you won’t find anything, unless you knew what you were looking for going in.

Another major drawback is the fact that Apple has no way to browse books and search for titles on a desktop computer. The iBookstore is strangely isolated, restricted to access from an iOS device. I honestly do not understand the logic of it, as it extends even further. What looked like an oversight at first has become the harsh truth of iBooks – the fact that there is not even a software reader for Macs or other desktop computers.

Sinking their teeth into the channels that DO make money might seem like a smart move at first, and I think it is only a matter of time until they will target Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo with similar prejudice.

Right now, Apple is trying to flex their muscle a bit. Whether they hope for other book publishers to pull out of the iOS altogether so that Apple can sell more books through the iBookstore, or whether they simply want to cash in on other people’s success, is anyone’s guess.

I would really much rather see them put some effort behind the iBookstore and improve it on all fronts, instead of trying to put the squeeze on others, because ultimately it will hurt everyone. Going head-to-head against Amazon can easily turn into a PR nightmare for Apple, and even if it doesn’t explode in their faces, the customers will be the ones who suffer, either because they won’t have access to books or the convenience of accessing their Kindle books anywhere any long should Amazon decide or to remove the Kindle app form iOS platforms — or have it removed. The book publishers will be angry at them and potentially boycott heir iBookstore altogether, or whatnot.

At this point, I think Apple will have to tread very carefully and not rush into things. Instead of toying with the idea of restricting or penalizing competition, maybe it would actually be a better idea to improve the overall iBooks experience for both authors and readers, and try to turn it into their own money-making success instead of leeching money off others. Once the Amazon experience is no longer 500% better, I am sure more people would turn to the native implementation of the iBooks.

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There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the pricing of eBooks, most of it stating that eBooks are too expensive and that prices need to come down. Seth Godin made a post on his blog recently pointing out that eBooks don’t really compete with traditional books but with mobile games, music and downloadable movies.

While there is probably a tiny bit of truth in it, I do not like the intimation that as a result of it, eBooks should come down in price. Why? Because for the most part, eBooks are actually sensibly priced.

Making a general, sweeping statement like that of Grodin creates the illusion that all eBooks are too expensive, when in fact it truly relates only to a portion of the market that is getting smaller by the day – that of major publishing houses. What it overlooks entirely is the flood of self-published eBooks that is swamping the market to the point that it actually chokes outlets. Most of these books are very low in price – too low, as a matter of fact – as they are not priced to create a sustainable business.

Instead most of these indie authors price their book based on a fear factor, hoping they could grab readership that way that would then miraculously turn into profits some time in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth, but if these authors want to get into this race the bottom, let them, I say. I’d rather see them help build a solid industry that is cohesive in its approach and makes use of the lessons that can be learned from comparable industries, such as the music and games industry, but the fear of failure seems to be too deeply rooted in most first-time writers.

The problem with general statements like Grodin’s is that people will look at it and echo the sentiment, never realizing that his criticism was actually pointed towards the NY publishing houses who still charge up to $15 for an eBook – the same as they do for a mass market paperback. These prices are not sustainable, there can be no doubt in my mind, but when people begin to complain that $2.99 for an eBook is too much we are beginning to have problems.

On many of the message boards I frequent I see posts where readers ask “Why are eBooks so expensive?,” citing $4.99 books as examples and shortly after you will see people pointing out that all eBooks should be 99 cents. It worries me to see this kind of sentiment in consumers, to be honest. It is bordering on an insult, really, as if the time, effort and intellectual work that went into the creation of a book was entirely worthless.

Being a price-conscious consumer who expects quality is one thing, but being the guy who demands everything for free is something different entirely.

It is important that we remember the value books have, not in terms of dollars and cents, but in enjoyment, emotion, pleasure, fright, drama and overall entertainment. Can you still, with a clean conscience, demand that eBooks should be only 99 cents?

When you read blog posts and articles about people calling for lower eBook prices, remember that this is not a call to a universal 99 cents price point, but a wake-up call for the fat cats in the NY publishing houses, who still believe that having an illiterate like Snooki “write” a book is a better idea than giving an actual writer a chance. Those guys have completely lost touch with their readership a long time ago. The only thing they are concerned about is to cater to their stock holders and board of directors so they won’t get fired. But guess what? If they keep up making those ridiculous decisions regarding their content and price tags, they will find themselves looking for life preservers before this year is out.

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This is the eighth installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


Last time I promised you I’d cover some more frills for your eBook formatting, and as you’d certainly agree, images are a big part of that. Even for fiction writers images offer great opportunities to present your book in the best possible light, so let’s take a look today how you ca best make use of that.

In fiction, one of the most obvious places to have images included is as part of a book’s chapter heading.

Imagine, if you may, to include a small visual vignette underneath the chapter heading text to set it apart even more.

Here is a small image that I am going to use in my examples. Feel free to right-click the image and save it for your own perusal.

”vignette”

In theory, this is exceedingly easy to do, using style sheets and the background-image parameter. You could simply add the following line to your style for chapter headings and see the image appear and trickle down through all your chapter headings.

background-image: vignette.png

Unfortunately, the background-image parameter is not really part of the CSS style sheet subset used by the ePub eBook file format. Although most eBook readers support it at this point — the major exception being the Kobo reader — it is sadly not safe to use. This may change in the future, but if you want to create a stable eBook I discourage its use.

The alternative is, sadly, not nearly as elegant and requires a good bit more work. What we have to do is include the image manually at every chapter heading, which might look something like this.

<img src="vignette.png" alt="pinstripe" />

The important part when using images is to include the slash at the end of the <img> tag and to include the alt parameter. Without them, our final eBook will not be in the proper format required by many distribution channels. The alt parameter is really just a text description of what the image shows. It is used if, for some reason, the device can’t read the image or if it is displayed in a mode for blind people, where images are dropped altogether. Instead, the alt-text is used to inform the reader what the image showed, which is why I used the word “pinstripe,” since the little graphic I embedded there is an image of a pinstripe. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

To center our vignette on the line, all we need to do is wrap the image tag with the proper <p> and <span> tags, just like we would do when centering text.

<p class="centered"><span class="centered"><img src="vignette.png" alt="pinstripe" /></span></p>

CHAPTER 1

pinstripe

Jason Dark was leaning over the chess board when Siu Lin entered the room with a dog-eared book in her hands.

“Trying to solve another one of the London Illustrated’s chess challenges?” she asked.

CHAPTER 2

pinstripe

She had a smug smile on her face when she finally looked at Dark, but it disappeared the moment she saw his expression.

Dark had gone entirely pale as all blood seemed to have drained from his face. For a moment his eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused, not seeing anything. His lips were trembling and he clutched his left arm.

***

Even though you have to manually include the image tag in every instance of your chapter heading, oftentimes you can automate the process by using your programming editor’s search/replace function using a very simple regular expression.

Simply replace — for example —

<p class="chapter">(.+)</p>

with

<p class="chapter">$1</p>
<p class="centered"><span class="centered"><img src="vignette.png" alt="pinstripe" /></span></p>

While it would be theoretically possible to create a separate style for these images that contains instructions to center the image, I decided against it. We have found a way that is virtually bullet-proof by using the <p> and <span> tags, so why take any risks by using something instead that might cause problems somewhere down the line. When in doubt, I typically tend to err on the side of caution, even if it means writing a few extra lines of code. It is just good practice.

In his book “Scourge,” author David H. Burton took this one step further when he wanted to have his chapter headings in a fancy font that mirrored the typeface used in the book’s cover. Since fonts are extremely limited on eBook readers, we decided to achieve this by using images of the actual text that were created in Photoshop. While it increased the file size somewhat, it did have the benefit that it immediately created a very distinctive look and feel for the book as a whole and paid big dividends in my opinion.

This is how it was created.

<p class="chapter"><span=”centered”><img src="Chapter1.png" alt=”chapter1” /></span></p>

There is a big catch to this, however, as we are no longer able to let Calibre automatically create a table of contents for you. The problem here is that we no longer have the plain text that Calibre relies on to build the TOC with. All we have is an image that Calibre can’t interpret. So, what do we do?

There is a nifty work-around for this. Let’s simply change our code to something that looks like this.

<p class="chapter" style="display:none">Chapter 1</p>
<p class="chapterImg"><span=”centered”><img src="Chapter1.png" alt=”chapter1” /></span></p>

How cool is that? What we did was, we created a traditional chapter heading with plain text, but by using display:none as an additional style setting, we essentially make the text invisible. It is there in the code for Calibre to use, but the eBook device itself will not render it. Right underneath then, we plant our graphic text and all is as it should be.

I hope you enjoyed our “frills” session so far, but we’re not quite done yet.

Aside from chapter headings, there are occasions where we would like to include images directly in the text. Scene changes often are examples of that, where traditionally small vignettes find their use.

If you want to do that, all we need to include in our text is a proper image tag at the correct location, that could look something like this.

<img src="vignette.png" alt="scene change" />

Occasionally, you might want to embed images in the text itself for illustrative purposes. We might want the text to flow around them, and would like the image to appear either on the left or the right side of the screen. Once again, all of that is a simple case for our styles.

img.left
{
  float: left;
  margin-right: 5px;
}

img.right
{
  float: right;
  margin-left: 5px;
}

To create an image that sits neatly on the left side of the screen and has text flowing around it, we would simply use the following tag in our mark-up.

<img class=”left” src="apicture.jpg" alt="picture" />

We would use

<img class=”right” src="apicture.jpg" alt="picture" />

respectively for an image that sits on the right side of the screen and has text flowing around it.

CHAPTER 2

pinstripe

coverSiu Lin walked over to the small table and pondered over the chess pieces for a moment. She tilted her head slightly to the side as she analyzed the board set-up and ran through a variety of moves in her head. After a few moments she sat down in a chair opposite of Dark’s, mulling the chess problem over in her head some more. In silence both tried to figure out the solution to the challenge, each trying to beat the other to it. “Bishop to C6,” she finally said. “Then counter with the Rook to H8, and from there it is going to be easy.”

She had a smug smile on her face when she finally looked at Dark, but it disappeared the moment she saw his expression.

Dark had gone entirely pale as all blood seemed to have drained from his face. For a moment his eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused, not seeing anything. His lips were trembling and he clutched his left arm.

***

I will leave it up to your own imagination to come up with great ideas to use this cool feature.

Note: Unfortunately the mobi file format does not allow for floating images at this time. This means, of course, that it is not possible to use one of layout’s greatest features on the Kindle to the best of my knowledge. If you have found a way to float text around images in mobi files I would love to hear from you!

Here we are, already at the end of an installment, and we still have not managed to get our book into Calibre to build a “real eBook. I apologize for that and promise we will definitely do that in the next installment. In the meanwhile, at least you can check out your book in a web browser and play around with the many features we have explored so far.

Everyone has different needs for their books, so if you have any specific ideas for “frills” that you’d like me to discuss, please feel free to leave me some comments.


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Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.


ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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This is the seventh installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


As you can probably tell by now from the last installment, we are by now getting pretty close to real tangible results that you can actually use, so let’s press on without delay.

The first thing we are going to do next is to turn our previously marked up document and turn it into a valid HTML file. In order to do that, we will have to wrap our text with proper header information. Simply use the sample below and paste the next few lines into the beginning of your existing text file.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
  <head>
    <style type="text/css">
      html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0em; }
      p
      {
        text-indent: 1.5em;
        margin-bottom: 0.2em;
      }
    </style>
  </head>
  <body>

Once you have done that, copy the following line and insert it at the very end of your text file.

  </body>

We have now wrapped your entire marked-up book text with proper HTML headers and have a valid XHTML file. Make sure to save it with an .html extension, and then load the file in your web browser. You can now already see a preliminary version of your book. You might want to resize the browser window to roughly resemble the size of an eBook reader and you will better see how the text flows on a smaller display. Exciting, isn’t it?

You may have noticed that we have the first style sheet information in our file now. It is very basic and determines only the look of the <p> tags.

p
{
  text-indent: 1.5em;
  margin-bottom: 0.2em;
}

Let us play with this paragraph style for a moment so you get a feel for what it does and how you can affect its results.

For example, change the text-indent value to 5em, save the file and then hit the Reload button in your browser. You should now see that the first-line indentation in your book has changed quite a bit — excessively so, I should say.

Change it back to its original value and let us adjust the margin-bottom value to 4em. Save the file and refresh it in your browser.

As you will see, we have now dramatically increased the spacing between individual paragraphs. We are on a roll. Are you feeling dangerous, yet? If so, let’s do something radical!

Change the margin value back to its original value and include the following line right underneath it.

font-weight: bold;

I am sure you know what is going to happen once we save this file and refresh it in the browser. As expected, all of your text is now in bold typeface. Pretty cool, but let’s take it up another notch. Insert the following line underneath the font-weight line.

font-size: 2em;

If you view this version in your browser, you now see that your book is in a really large, bold print. Very cool, isn’t it? Especially, since this is just how our chapter headings should look like… All we would need is a way to tell the browser, which those chapter headings are. Which gives me an idea.

Replace the paragraph style in your file with the following block.

p
{
  text-indent: 1.5em;
  margin-bottom: 0.2em;
}

p.chapter
{
  text-indent: 1.5em;
  font-weight: bold;
  font-size: 2em;
}

If you remember how style sheets work, you already see what is happening. We have created a second paragraph style named “chapter” and we will be using that one to style our chapter headings.

Here is a short sample text I will be using in the following examples to show you how to massage the different parts of your eBook. It’s a little piece from my book Terrorlord from the “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” series, in case you’re curious. As you can see, the example has chapter headings and I have wrapped them with a parametrized paragraph tag. As a result the browser will use the chapter style to render the text between these paragraphs, while using the standard paragraph style for the other text blocks.


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
  <head>
    <style type="text/css">
      html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0em; }
      p
      {
        text-indent: 1.5em;
        margin-bottom: 0.2em;
      }
      p.chapter
      {
        text-indent: 1.5em;
        font-weight: bold;
        font-size: 2em;
      }
    </style>
  </head>
  <body>
    <p class="chapter">CHAPTER 1</p>
    <p>Jason Dark was leaning over the chess board when Siu Lin entered the room with a dog-eared book in her hands.</p>
    <p>“Trying to solve another one of the London Illustrated’s chess challenges?” she asked.</p>
    <p class="chapter">CHAPTER 2</p>
    <p>She had a smug smile on her face when she finally looked at Dark, but it disappeared the moment she saw his expression.</p>
    <p>Dark had gone entirely pale as all blood seemed to have drained from his face. For a moment his eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused, not seeing anything. His lips were trembling and he clutched his left arm.</p>
    <p>***</p>
  </body>

This may all look a little garbled right now, because of the blog layout, but feel free to copy this and save it to use it as your sandbox playground, if you wish. If you load it up in the browser, this thing starts to look like a book, actually, doesn’t it? And it will only get better from here.

When we start a new chapter in our book, we usually want it to start on a new page, and styles can help us do that. Insert the following line in the chapter paragraph style.

page-break-before: always;

Unfortunately, web browsers do not handle page breaks properly — traditionally, there are no page breaks in web pages — so you won’t see them when you preview your book right now. If we were to load it onto an eBook reader, though, it would work. Right now you will just have to take my word for it.

Page breaks are nice and all, but usually, we would not want the chapter heading to be right at the top of the page. It should be moved down a little, leaving some white space around it, at the top and at the bottom. Very easy exercise, really. All you have to do is insert the following to lines in the “chapter” style.

margin-top:5em;
margin-bottom:2em;

Save it and refresh your browser, and you will see that you now have nice, clean spacing around the “CHAPTER 1” and “CHAPTER 2” headings in our example. And all of that without really changing your actual book text itself.

We’re doing it all through styles, which means if you think the white space is a bit too much, all you have to do is change the style values and it will automatically affect all your chapter headings throughout the entire book.

Now, you may have noticed the three stars at the end of my eBook source file. I will use these for another specialized styling, because I want these three stars to be centered on the page, something you will encounter in most books at one point or another. Someone versed in HTML would probably go about and simply wrap these stars with <center> and </center> tags. Sadly, that’s a bad idea when it comes to eBooks.

Centering text in eBooks is one of the most error prone undertakings because device manufacturers seem to have different takes on what “centering” means. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but I am not lying to you.

To create foolproof centering we have to double-stitch our approach, to make sure every device understands exactly what it is we’re trying to do.

First we will include the following two styles in our file.


p.centered
{
  text-indent: 0em;
  text-align: center;
}
span.centered
{
  text-indent: 0em;
  text-align: center;
}

Since both declarations look identical, this might seem redundant, but sadly, some devices, like the iPad, require the <span> tag for centered elements, while others require the more commonly used <p> tag. I think it is also important to point out that the text-indent: 0em; setting is important in this context. Without it, the device would actually render our text slightly off-center because it would center the text and then add a 1.5em indentation to it. Not what we want, so we have to reset the indentation to zero.

To center our text line, we will now wrap it with the proper HTML tags and make it look like this.

<p class="centered"><span class="centered">***</span></p>

This may not look nice in code form, but it solves all our problems and the line will now be centered correctly on all devices I have come across. I am enclosing here a little preview, roughly what the example looks like with all our little improvements in place.

CHAPTER 1

Jason Dark was leaning over the chess board when Siu Lin entered the room with a dog-eared book in her hands.

“Trying to solve another one of the London Illustrated’s chess challenges?” she asked.

CHAPTER 2

She had a smug smile on her face when she finally looked at Dark, but it disappeared the moment she saw his expression.

Dark had gone entirely pale as all blood seemed to have drained from his face. For a moment his eyes stared straight ahead, unfocused, not seeing anything. His lips were trembling and he clutched his left arm.

***

In all of this, you may have noticed that I did not set any default font face, size or text justification. This is not an oversight, let me tell you. I did that on purpose.

eBook readers allow users to use their preferred settings. Font size, justification and font type are very personal things and who are we to mess with what people like? By not setting our own values, the eBook device will automatically fall back onto the user preferences and immediately display our book in the user’s preferred way. It may be a small thing, but trust me, it goes over really well with your readers. Usability is key!

Go ahead now, and make the proper adjustments to your own book file. Mark up your chapter headings and the centered text portions, adjust the styles to your linking and take a look at your own book. As you may have noticed, it has already turned into a pretty reliable and predictable thing. Let me stress again at this point, that this is the reason why you do not want to export your eBooks straight from a word processor. See, how much control you have over the look and feel of your book with just a few simple steps? And it only gets better…

In the next installment we will add still some more frills to our book and then in the not too distant future, go to the next step, building the actual eBook in Calibre.


Take pride in your eBook formatting
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.


ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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This is the sixth installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


Time for the clean-up of your manuscript

Now that we’ve exhaustively covered the preliminaries, it is finally time to put it all to work for us and begin creating an actual eBook source file. I know you’ve been waiting for this with held breath, so let’s just roll.

The first thing we need is a cleaned up text version of your manuscript. By that, I mean a version that has proper curly quotes, correct dashes, including em dashes, ellipses and so forth.

I can’t even count how many times I have read on message boards, not to use curly quotes, ellipses etc. and I cannot stress how misguided those recommendations are. They usually stem from people not properly understanding the workings of eBook creation and going for a cop-out instead of trying to really address the problems they might have encountered. Bad advice! I will show you how to do it right because publishing a book without proper typographical characters is like writing text without ever using the letter ‘e’.

The way I clean up my text is usually by loading it into a word processor and doing a series of search and replaces. The first one is replacing all occurrences of " with ". Yes, this is no typo, I am really replacing all quotes with an identical quote. By doing this I am putting the word processor’s logic to work. By replacing all quotes in the text with themselves, the program automatically smart quotes them, creating the correct, corresponding curly quotes for me throughout the text. Now that was cool, wasn’t it?

Next step, we do the same thing with single quotes, by replacing all occurrences of ' with '. Again the software will make sure to use the typographically correct curled single quotes in all instances.

Next up, em dashes. I have a habit to mark em dashes by writing two regular dashes in my text, so a quick search that replaces -- with — does the trick for me in no time.

The last step are usually ellipses, in which a search and replace of all occurrences of ... with … will automatically create proper ellipses for me. This is important because it allows the eBook reader to do proper line breaks after the ellipses, whereas three individual periods can easily confuse the device and render the first period on one line and the remaining two on the next — which is a serious typographical flaw. In addition, ellipses are spaced correctly for each font for best readability, and are part of the typographic vocabulary for a reason, so don’t just ignore them.

If you have a word processor that allows you to search for text styles — some do, others don’t — you can now do a search and replace that will save you considerable time down the line. Try to find all instances of italic text and wrap them with <i> tags now. Using wild cards, you can pretty much automate this process and save yourself hours of manual work with just a few mouse clicks here. In Word, for example, go to the search box and hit Ctrl-i to select italic, and in the replace box enter <i>^&</i> and then hit Replace All and you should be all set.

Do not fall for the temptation to do the same thing with your bold text, however, such as your chapter headings! We will tackle those differently a little later on.

We now have a clean text file. Select the entire text now and copy it to your clipboard. We are leaving the word processor and enter the domain of HTML.

Nice, clean and predictable in HTML

Open your programming editor (See Part III of the series for a quick discussion of programming editors), create a new file and paste your text into it. You will notice that all formatting is lost, and that is just as well. In fact, that is what we want. It is probably the most important step of the entire process, to get rid of the unpredictable word processor formatting. We will now begin to massage our text back to shape with a few, elegantly applied steps.

Once you got over the shock that all formatting is lost, you may also notice that every paragraph of your original text is now in one single, long line. (If that is not the case, you should adjust the line width of the editor to its maximal possible length through the Options settings.)

We will use this fact to our advantage and wrap every single line with a paragraph tag. This can be easily done using a regular expression search and replace. Regular expressions are extremely cryptic and I do not expect you to understand how they work, so just follow the next few instructions, if you may.

Open the search and replace window in your editor and make sure Regular Expressions are enabled. Occasionally you may find a checkbox in the search window, so give it a quick look. Now enter ^(.+)$ as the search term. Then enter <p>$1</p> in the replacement line. Run the search and replace across the entire text and take a look at your results. Every line of text should now be wrapped neatly by an opening <p> and a closing </p> tag. If they are not, your editor might use a slightly different syntax. Undo whatever the editor just did and enter <p>\1</p> in the replacement line instead of the previously used enter <p>$1</p> replacement term. Run the replacement and check the results. If it is still not correct, your editor might not support regular expressions.

In theory you could do these replacements in your word processor also, though quite honestly, I don’t really trust them that well, and personally prefer the use of a programming editor instead, which is also significantly faster.

Dealing with special characters the right way

The next step for us to do is to replace all special characters with their proper HTML entities. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this, and how it’s not working right or is platform dependent, but trust me, when I say, that it is all bologna. There is a very safe way to handle this in HTML that will properly display on every HTML device, regardless of font or text encoding. The key to success lies in HTML’s named entities.

If we take the ellipses (…), for example, in HTML there is a special code that tells the device to draw that particular character. It is called &hellip; With this entity, the device knows to draw an ellipse that cannot be broken into parts and is treated as a single character.

If you use the entity &mdash; the device will render a proper em dash. Proper length, proper size and all.

Next up are quotes. For that purpose, HTML offers &ldquo; and &rdquo; , entities that represent curly left and right double quotes, just the way we love them. Correspondingly, &lsquo; and &rsquo; are the entities to draw curly single quotes.

And as easy as that, we have circumnavigated all compatibility issues for special characters. These named entities will always be rendered correctly, unlike the cryptic numeric entities that some people are using.

If you happen to see something like this in your HTML code – &#175; – you know you’re asking for trouble, so make sure to use named entities only!

There are, of course many more, including entities for currency symbols, accented characters etc. and there are two basic ways to go about having them all replaced.

The brute force approach would be to search and replace all of them by hand, one entity at a time. This is not only time consuming but also prone to error, as you could all too easily overlook some in your text — but it may be the only option available to you.

The second — and easier way — is to automate the process. TextMate, the programming editor I am using, has a function called “Convert Selection to Entities excluding Tags” and it does exactly what we need. With it, it takes me one mouse-click to have all special characters in my entire book converted to named entities. Remember, using the right tools for the job will always make your life easier!

Alternatively, there are a few websites on the Internet that allow you to paste in your text and it will convert it for you, such as http://word2cleanhtml.com. However, I take no responsibility for the quality of the conversion and I want to point out that you are inserting your entire book into a website you are not familiar with, where it could — theoretically — be stored and re-distributed. I’m usually not paranoid but it is something I thought I should point out.

If you have not been able to wrap all your italic text instances with <i> tags in your word processor, now would be the time to do that — by hand. It may be a bit tedious, as you will have to look for every instance of italic text in your manuscript and manually wrap it with the tags, but I found that usually their number are limited and it doesn’t take too long to do.

Once we are done with all that, we have a very basic HTML source file for our eBook — one that is guaranteed without strange formatting errors and things that plague countless eBooks. Make sure you save this file somewhere, using an .html file extension. This will later allow us to quickly evaluate and check the eBook file in an ordinary web browser. In fact, if you double-click the file, you should already be able to take a look at it in your browser. Paragraphs should be nicely separated and italic text should show as such.

As you can see we’re quickly getting there now, but, of course, we are not done yet. In the next installment we will begin to fine-tune the various elements of the book and give it the polish it deserves.


Take pride in your eBook formatting
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.


ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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A few impressions from CES

Last week I went to Las Vegas to visit CES, the Consumer Electronic Show. It is kind of an annual migration for me, to go to the show and see all the latest technical developments and gizmos that we can expect to hit the market in the next months. Interestingly, this year, the show was pretty much underwhelming on the entire front.

While TV manufacturers tried to dazzle visitors with their hot new 3D technologies, the sad fact of the matter is that the technology is simply not there for the living room yet. Not only did all displays flicker horribly but they seriously lacked real visual depth and dimensionality despite the 3D efforts, they lacked resolution and most importantly they lacked appeal. The glass-less 3D efforts were even more painfully unsatisfactory, as the 3D effect was only achieved when standing in a small sweet spot straight in front of the display, and even then, the effect was lackluster at best. Everyone else saw double-images as a result of the lenticular coating of the displays. If this is what the consumer electronic industry wants to sell to consumers, no thank you.

The other fad that was evident all over the show were tablets. They were all over, I mean, everyone and their mothers displayed they cool little tablet. Some of them were so close to the real deal — speak, the iPad — that you had to look twice, and frankly in those cases, the question immediately becomes, why would anyone want that? There is the original, and it’s perfect… Most of these tablets were powered by Android operating systems, so a solid variety of apps and tools should be available right off the bat, though their quality might be dubious at best.

That, in essence, was CES this year. Companies trying to sell us pretty bad versions of stuff we already have. Innovation was noticeably absent, as were really interesting new trends.

One thing I noticed while walking the show floor, however, was the abundance of eBook readers. Not too long ago, Amazon’s Kindle was the only kid on the block, until a few major players decided it was time to challenge Amazon’s king-of-the-hill position. They are all still struggling to catch up in terms of hardware, sales, catalog and ease of use, but they keep trying nonetheless, and rightfully so, as it is a market that will show some significant growth in the next years.

It was interesting to see how many Chinese manufacturers had eInk eBook readers on display, looking for American distribution. Some of these devices looked rather slick, but a closer look often revealed major flaws. I was not so much turned off by the fact that many of them targeted a $200 price point for a barebones wifi reader, because an American distributor will quickly set them right in their expectations by laying out the current pricing in the market for them. What I did notice, however, was a distinct lack in quality. Some readers were exceedingly clunky and bulky, others were as slow as a Kindle 1, and others yet had a user interface that would have made Steve Wozniak cry on the apple II.

I also saw some bizarre hybrids, where manufacturers created devices that featured an eInk screen on one side and an LCD screen on the opposite side. The device would then be flipped open and closed like a laptop. The problem here was that the device was about twice as thick as any laptop in the market, weighed the same as a laptop but offered significantly less functionality than a laptop. Why anyone would want to replace something clunky and heavy but versatile with something even clunkier, heavy but less versatile, I am not sure. Evidently the makers of these devices had other thoughts on the subject, so who am I to talk?

In the end, however, a trend is clearly visible. eBook readers will flood the market before long. Will they all succeed? Not likely. The reason the Kindle is so successful has mostly to do with Amazon’s marketing muscle and distribution network. At this point no one — and I mean, no one — can rival that in any way and I do not see that change in the foreseeable future.

As brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble or Border’s try to take a shot at Amazon and have some success stories to tell, the fact of the matter is that they will have to undergo serious corporate restructuring in the face of the eBook revolution. This will affect them on every level of their service spectrum, including digital distribution and their advertising budgets, and it will have an effect on their ability to compete with Amazon, who does not have any of these problems. Other distributors trying to break into the ebook market have stigma attached to them, like Google, where both readers and authors start to get wary whether it is a good idea to let Google do their thing, especially since Google is extremely inflexible and controversial when it comes to some of their distribution agreements.

When all these eBook readers that are being created by countless companies around the globe will hit the market, there will be a great rush, no doubt — especially on the lower priced ones. It may help distributors like Kobo to jump into the breach and carve out a really good market for them, but I still doubt that the impact will be nearly as big as people might expect.

As long as people will need to connect their eBook readers to a computer, have to potentially deal with driver problems, manually transfer books from the computer to the device, and so forth, there will be a huge barrier of entry. Even worse, the overall experience — or lack thereof — may actually turn people off and convert them back to print books. The process has to be painless and easy, the experience pleasant and enjoyable, otherwise, no dice.

There were many reasons why the iPhone was such a smashing success and among the factors playing into it was the fact that it tightly integrated into iTunes. While iTunes may not be a lot of fun for PC users — but then, what is? — on the Mac it is pure elegance and makes syncing, saving, transferring and purchasing content a breeze, integrating seamlessly into the traditional workflow. Add to it the capability to browse and purchase content straight from the device, and you know, why it took off so quickly.

It also gives you a notion, why the Kindle took off the way it did, despite its initial $300 price tag. It gets it all right and unless the upcoming import eBook readers can offer the same kind of ease of use, immediate accessibility and variety of content, I am sure the Kindle will only continue to be the guiding light for the entire industry.

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This is the fifth installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


Now that we’ve seen some of the structural basics of HTML, it is time to examine how you can affect the actual look of these elements. The easiest, most efficient and most reliable way is through so-called style. A style sheet is nothing more than a list of definition that allows you to tell the device exactly what you want it to do with each of the available HTML tags.

A valid style definition in HTML would look something like this…

<style type=text/css>

  p
  {
    text-indent: 1.5em;
  }

</style>

We need to surround these styles with a <style> HTML tag to tell the device which part of our page is the actual style definition or it would otherwise mistake it for structural HTML tags and end up with syntax errors.

There is a remarkable wealth of things you can directly influence with these types of style settings. The most commonly used ones are things such as font face, font size, line spacing, indentations, margins and so forth, but it is also possible to actually create things such as borders, drop shadows and other exciting things with, or even include specific images for display with each one of their respective tasks.

Some of the biggest problems I have seen while I was creating HTML sources for eBooks had often to do with the fact that every eBook reader has its own default settings. Some of them are set up to include extra space at the end of a paragraph, others are set up to create a 20 pixel margin around the text, others yet will indent the first line of every paragraph by default.

For us, this kind of random behavior is oftentimes unacceptable, and fortunately there is an easy remedy for it — a so-called style reset.

html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0; }

This line, which will be the very first line in our style definitions, tells the device to remove all default margins and padding by setting them to 0 for all major tags we might use. The next step for us is then to go create specific style settings for all the tags we are going to use.

Since we will be using only a very small subset of HTML tags, in practice this is very little work but instantly gives you 100% control over the look of your final eBook. No more guessing or chance formatting for you!

“Hold on,” I can already hear you say. “Not all paragraphs are equal, for example,” and you are absolutely correct. In our eBook we will have paragraphs for general text, we might have headlines, we certainly will have chapter headings, and each of these will require a different look.

Fortunately, HTML gives us an easy way to create customized tags and allows us to style each of them individually. We do this by assigning a class to a tag, thus letting the device know which style to use for it. Take a look at this line, for example.

<p class=headline>Look at me</p>

Upon encountering this paragraph tag, the device will look for the paragraph style called “headline,” and use its settings to display the paragraph. If we want to tell it to display this type of paragraph in a large bold font, we would simply create a style that could look like this.

p.headline
{
  font-size: 2em;
  font-weight: bold;
}

This is pretty easy stuff, isn’t it? But what the heck does 2em mean?

While it would be possible to define the text size in points, the way you would do in a word processor, in the publishing world it is oftentimes easier to use the alternate measurement of Em.

Since text sizes in a document are usually in a certain relationship to each other, it makes much more sense to use a relative measurement than absolute font scaling. In practice this means that if you change the base font size of the document all other sizes in the document are automatically scaled up as well to an equal degree. All measurements made with ems are derived from that one base font size definition.

Not only does this ensure that the size relationship between fonts in your document remains intact at all times, it also means that you will not have to change all your styles manually, if, after a long day’s work, you decide that all the text is actually a tad too small. By using the relative measurement of em, this won’t be problem for you, ever.

I could bore you with the history of the em and talk about the old days when typesetters like myself would work with lead characters, but to make things easy for you, simply think of one em as the space taken up by the character M. In most typefaces, this creates a space that is as wide as it is high and is therefore a recognized measure.

If we are working in a 12pt font, for example, 1 em is also 12pt. Now, let’s assume we want to create an indentation in our text that is four characters – or 48pt – wide, we would simply make the indentation 4em. The advantage, as described above, is that if we should decide to switch to a 10 font instead, the indentation of 4em will still be four characters wide — 40pt in the new font size. The visual balance of our text will remain unaffected and it will remain pleasing to the eye without us having to raise a single finger. That is the magic of using the right tools for the job…

There are many parameters that you can adjust through HTML styles — far too many to cover here. We will encounter a number of them as we go along. Since most of them are self-explanatory, I may not necessarily explain the function of each one. However, if there are certain things to look out for, or if we should encounter unusual settings, I will certainly let you know about it.

There is one HTML tag in particular that I think I should single out at this point, however. I usually stay away from using H1 tags and its brethren H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6. They are strange beasts and their behavior can be quite unpredictable, depending on the device or browser you are using. Since we can recreate the behavior of these tags easily through the use of specially styled paragraphs, I usually prefer going that route.

A replacement of the H1 tag, for example, could look like this.

<p class="h1">This is a large headline</p>

By using an appropriate style for the paragraph class we can now give it the size, font and weight we desire.

p.h1
{
  font-size: 4em;
  font-weight: bold;
}

Below you will find an example of a style description that could easily use in any eBook right out of the box and get good results, no doubt.

<style type=text/css>

  html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, blockquote, pre, form, fieldset, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0.1em; }

  p
  {
    text-indent: 1.5em;
  }

  p.title
  {
    font-size: 1.5em;
    font-weight: bold;
    margin-top: 5em;
  }

  p.headline
  {
    text-indent: 1.5em;
    font-weight: bold;
    margin-top: 1.5em;
  }

  p.chapter
  {
    text-indent: 1.5em;
    page-break-before: always;
    font-weight: bold;
    margin-top:5em;
    margin-bottom:2em;
  }

</style>

I will leave you with this example for this time. Feel free to explore style settings in a bit more detail in the meanwhile. In our next installment we will take a look at how to put it all together into an actual eBook source file.


Take pride in your eBook formatting
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.


ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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I hope you all had a great start into the new year!

A few days ago I finished “Throne of Jade, ” the second book in Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series. As you may recall, I loved the first book, “His Majesty’s Dragon,” and was extremely excited to go into the sequel. Interestingly, the book was not quite as good as I had hoped. While Novik’s writing is still having the same wonderful flow, I felt the story itself was lacking a bit.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the first book was the involvement of dragons in the naval warfare at the turn of the century, as the English tried so very desperately to disable Napoleon’s plans to invade the British Isles. Sadly, most of these action elements are taking the backseat on “Throne of Jade,” and instead the story takes on a much more inter-personal approach to the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. Together they are literally forced by the powers in charge to travel to Temeraire’s native China where the dragon soon finds that instead of being creatures that inspire fear and terror, dragon’s are in fact full accepted members of society. This, of course, causes the intelligent dragon to question why things are the way they are in Europe, and Laurence begins to fear that Temeraire may not only become seditious, but he might actually decide to stay in China.

The book features only two action scenes involving dragons, the first one as sort of a set-up for the second act and the other one settling the final conflict of the story. Other than that, it is all about relationships, fears and culture. Not bad, but not at all what I had expected.

In addition, the book ends very abruptly, almost as if Novik just wanted to drop the pen and be done with it. Though the story line is complete at that point, the ending is still exceedingly unexpected and rough around the edges, I felt, and a few more word of epilogue would have eased the reader out of the story better. But that is only my opinion, and there can be no doubt that “Throne of Jade” is still a very engaging book.

At this point I have started to read Moses Siregar’s novella “The Black God’s War.” He wrote this story as a precursor to his upcoming full-length novel of the same name. An interesting concept, to be sure, and if the first four chapters are any indication, I will most definitely read the novel once it becomes available.

The book is a mix between the mythology of Greek and Hellenic cultures, it seems, intermingled with somewhat more traditional fantasy elements. It reads like historical fiction with a fantasy twist. Things feel and sound real enough to give you the historical feel, yet none of it is part of actual mythology or history, thus giving it a familiar, yet completely new, fictitious flair.

Siregar’s writing style is also natural and flows very well, making it for a fast and easy read. There is none of the superficial style found in the books of many first time novelists trying so hard to impress the reader — or more accurately, the critics — while seemingly forgetting entirely that a good story is told as a good story and not an assortment of literary language gimmicks.

Siregar on the other hand, has a firm grip on his writing and seems to be very comfortable letting the story flow and his characters develop. It makes for really enjoyable reading and I am eagerly continuing this story. I will, of course, tell you more about “The Black God’s War” when ‘m finished reading it.

Meanwhile I have begun working on a little side project myself. While I can’t tell you too much about it right now, it is a short story in the “Jason Dark” realm. An extremely exciting promotional opportunity has come along which will allow me to get “Jason Dark” in front of a much larger audience than before, and for that purpose I am currently crafting a short story. It is kind of tricky to get all the ingredients that make a “Jason Dark” adventure what it is into a quarter of the usual length — remember, the usual length is already very challenging in its own right.

However, my wife, Lieu, and I have been doing a couple of brain storming sessions and worked on ideas how such a story could look like, and at this point I am confident that I’ll be able to put together an adventure that will be every bit as exciting and action-packed as the usual dime novels, while maintaining the same sense of identity and including the customary historic and literary references.

Once we get closer to the actual launch of the promotion I will be happy to tell you more about it.

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This is the fourth installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


The basics of HTML

Finally, with all the preliminaries out of the way, we are finally ready to descend into the real machinations of eBook creation, but since we will be working with HTML for the next few chapters, let me explain some of the basics first. I will keep this very short because ultimately it is not all that relevant to creating eBooks but it certainly helps understand why things work the way they do. I’m an inquiring mind by nature and I always feel more comfortable doing things when I fully understand what is going on under the hood, and why. It is the reason why I always loved machine code programming because it truly lets you get down to the wire… but I’m straying.

When working with HTML there are two basic layers of information that you need to be aware of because they need to be kept separate for best results. The first layer deals with the structure of the information in an HTML document while the second one deals with its visual presentation.

The structure defines, for example, the titles of a chapter and the actual text of that chapter. If your book is a bit more complex, the structure will also define where images might be embedded in the text. But that’s usually as far as it goes. The facts, only, Ma’am, if you please…

The second layer, the one that is responsible for the visual representation, then takes that structural information and determines how it should look like on a screen, whether you chapter title is in bold typeface, for example, and whether it should be somewhat enlarged, perhaps. It is in charge of creating proper page breaks, indentations and line feeds, as well as possibly margins around your text. It will determine exactly how to place the images embedded in the text, whether text should flow around them or if they should be centered on the page, breaking up the text flow. All these things that are responsible for how your book will look like are handled by this second layer.

As you will learn, the separation of these two layers is crucial because not only will it create in more robust HTML files, it will also make your life a lot easier.

The structural layer

HTML is a basic mark-up language that allows you to insert certain information into text to give it certain properties. All HTML tags are bracketed by < and > signs. One of the easiest ways to understand this is perhaps the following example.

This is an example for <strong>bold</strong> text

As you can see, we have inserted the tag <strong> before the word “bold.” The <strong> tag tells the display device that we want the text following the tag to appear in a “strong” typeface – what exactly that is we will discuss later. For the time begin, let’s just say, it means we make it bold. On the device, the result of this line will look something like this…

This is an example for bold text

Naturally, we will also need to tell the display when to switch back to the regular typeface, and we can simply do that by inserting a </strong> tag. It is like a toggle. Turn bold typeface on… write… turn bold typeface off.

Most of HTML works this way, as you will see. An opening tag starts an action, a closing tag ends it. Look at the following example and I am sure you will understand what it does as soon as I tell you that the <em> tag means “emphasize,” which in HTML is equivalent with italic.

This is an example for <em>italic</em> text

Yeah, I assume you see how this works, don’t you? In your eBook reader, the result of this line you look a lot like this

This is an example for italic text

Let’s try something a little harder. Make this more interesting, so to speak.

One of the major elements of a book are paragraphs. A number of sentences that we bunched together and that we usually want to appears as some kind of unified block. The best way to tell HTML that it is dealing with a paragraph is by using the <p> tag.

<p>This is a paragraph. It might be a short one, but computers are intrinsically stupid and surely won’t care.</p>

Note the opening <p> and the closing </p> tags that tell the display device exactly where we are beginning and ending our paragraph. With this knowledge, we can later tell the device exactly how we want it to treat and display these paragraphs.

Another very important HTML tag that you will most likely come across when building eBooks is <img>, used to embed an image in a document. Its use looks something like this.

<img src=“/images/cover.jpg” alt=“Cover” />

Its usage is very simple. All we do, is tell the device where to find the actual image file — the file “cover.jpg” in the subdirectoy “images” in this case. Unlike HTML you would create for web pages usually, when we create HTML for eBooks we need to be a little more mindful of some of the smaller details. The alt parameter, for example, is essential in eBooks and cannot be left out — unless you want to create a flawed, broken eBook file that will be rejected by various distribution outlets. So, simply include a brief one- or two-word description of the image. It doesn’t really matter what you say here, as long as you have the parameter included. If you wish you can even leave it empty, and make it look like this

<img src=“/images/cover.jpg” alt=“” />

In addition always make sure to close the tag properly with the slash at the end, like such “/>”. eBook readers are very picky about these small details, so make sure you do it right the first time around and turn it into a habit.

For the most part, these are the key tags we will be using to build our eBooks. While there are many other tags in the HTML vocabulary, from my experience, the ones I just showed you are pretty much the core of what you will need. For certain, more specific tasks you might have to make use of others, but I prefer to introduce and tell you about those as we get to them over the course of this series. It will be easier to understand and memorize them when you see them within their proper context and in actual use.

For now this will suffice and as you can see, this has been very easy and straight-forward, has it not? Like I said, easy as burning a marshmallow over an open fire.

In the next installment of the series we will begin to take a closer look at the second layer of HTML where I will show you how to affect the actual look and layout of the text elements we discussed above.


Take pride in your eBook formatting
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.


ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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Why I upgraded to a Kindle 3

Something happened this Christmas that I did not see coming. I upgraded myself to a Kindle 3. I have been a first-generation Kindle user for a long time now and have never had the feeling that my Kindle was lacking in any department. As a matter of fact, for the longest time I told myself that I do not need a new Kindle. I had been playing with the thought when first the Kindle 3 came out and news about the impressive new display made its rounds through the Internet. The temptation was there, clearly, but more from a geeky gadgeteer standpoint than from actual need.

I take quite some pride in the fact that I do have my spending habits firmly under control. I do not give in easy to little cravings or desires, and usually get to the point very quickly where I can walk away from things and tell myself that I simply do not need them. To me there is a very clear distinction between the things I want and things I need.

Yeah, well, all that changed, of course, when I first laid my eyes on the brand new Kindle 3 in person. I had bought one for my niece for Christmas. She is a real bookworm and the stacks of books she had around were always dangerously close to toppling over burying everything and everyone under them. So, my and I decided to give her a Kindle. It would cut down on her physical storage needs and would make it easier on her wallet, too, as eBooks do have a tendency to be cheaper. Many of the books she has in her library – the classics – are available for free in digital form also, making an even better proposition. But I digress.

On Christmas morning we unwrapped our presents and with gleaming eyes she took into her heart her Kindle. I could tell she immediately fell in love with it. The idea itself of having a digital book reader as well as all the benefits that come with it.

As I showed her the ropes, how to get around the Kindle, download books, open them, create bookmarks, notes and highlights, etc. I had the chance to use that latest-generation Kindle myself, of course. As I said in openings, it was the first direct contact I have had with the device, but the impression it made on me was quite profound.

The new Pearl screen is a real beauty. I always felt the original Kindle screen looked a lot like printed paper, but this new, improved display makes the old one look like it was printed on newsprint paper, while the new one is on high end matter paper without ink blotting. I do have a background in the printing industry as some of you may know, and I have a trained eye when it comes to typography, typesetting and printing, so these improvements are dramatic, and they immediately sprang to my eye.

Then I tried the text-to-speech feature, which the Kindle 1 does not offer, and thought it was a nice addition. While it still sounds like a robot trying to read with all the wrong inflections and other artifacts of text-to-speech technology, it is not all that bad and may come in handy on occasion.

Much improved is also the user interface. It took a bit getting used to for me to find certain things I had gotten very comfortable with, but I found that some thought had been put into it, making many features easier and faster to access.

And the, of course, there is the design. It is a slick little device – much slimmer and lighter than my Kindle 1 – and it feels much less bulky. So, to make a long story short, I really liked the Kindle 3 and once we had all unwrapped and explored our presents I went to my computer and ordered a Kindle 3 for myself. Needless to say that I read a lot, and it is a valid investment, but I am honest. I did not need a new Kindle – this time I wanted one.

Only this time I decided that the Wifi version would suffice. I may have bought a book from my Kindle on an occasion or two when I wasn’t within reach of a Wifi network, and the 3G connectivity came in very handy, but as I placed my order I had to ask myself if this luxury was really worth an extra outlay of $50 dollars. I mean, the end of a book doesn’t exactly sneak up on you. You see in your progress bar, how much is left, and to me that simply meant that I should be able to make sure I have the next book ready and loaded by the time I may – coincidentally – be without a Wifi connection AND the need for a new book.

So, all I have to do now is to wait for another day to find the new device on my doorstep and load all my books on it. And now I can even start categorizing them… something the original Kindle didn’t allow me to do, and I am sure there will be many more pleasant features I will come to enjoy.

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