Archive for the ‘ Formatting ’ Category

For all my author friends and visitors, today I have an announcement that is slightly different from my usual formatting posts. I would like you to check out a brand new website called Covertopia.com!

As the title suggests, it is a website specializing on covers. Selling book covers, to be more specific, and if you want to be exact about it, Covertopia.com is a destination where authors can find highest quality pre-designed covers as well as custom created covers.

Why am I telling you this? Well, if you browse the site a little, you will notice that my name comes up, because I am affiliated with the site. As part of the packages for authors offered on Covertopia.com I am throwing my formatting experience and services in the ring, so that hopefully it becomes more of a one-stop solution for authors. Here, you can get your eBook and print covers done, as well as your eBook formatting and print layout. All easy, quick and super professional. Here are a few samples I picked for you, just to show you the level of quality you can find there.

Needless to say there are countless more covers available for purchase right now! If you don’t believe me, just browse some of the pre-designed covers that are currently available on the site. Whether you’re a romance, horror, mystery or thriller author, or if you write non-fiction and self-help books, anything in-between, on Covertopia.com you can find an ever-expanding array of pre-designed covers of the highest quality at affordable prices.

But there is more… in addition to the covers themselves, Covertopia.com also offers additional graphic assets for your books, including web ads, Facebook banners, memes, 3D book covers images, audio book covers, bookmark and postcard designs—all designed to help promote your book.

It is very easy to see the decades of design experience shine through in these covers, as they have been tweaked for optimal visibility. Since books are bought primarily online these days, every cover has been carefully designed to ensure that the respective books will get noticed by readers browsing virtual store shelves. Don’t believe me? Go, see for yourself. Right now!

Oh, and before you leave, make sure you will also tell all your friends about Covertopia.com, because undoubtedly, they will need a best-selling cover for their next book as well, and wouldn’t you like to be the one to set them on the right path?

I am making it easy for you! Simply click on the text or the icon below, and tweet the news to all your followers.

Tweet: Covertopia.com is a new hot new site for all your pre-designed #eBook and print cover needs — http://bit.ly/1IL9ciz #covers
Click2Tweet: Covertopia.com is a new hot new site for all your pre-designed #eBook and print cover needs — http://bit.ly/1IL9ciz #covers
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Custom fonts in iBooks

By now, I am sure you’ve heard that every device in the market has its own little quirks. Whether it’s not scaling images correctly, ignoring transparency, overlooking style settings in certain tags or some other weird behavior, the process of formatting ebooks across platforms is anything than straight-forward.

Today I want to direct your attention to one issue in particular, the way iBooks is handling font switches. Ordinarily, and on all other platforms, changing the font in a block of text is one of the most rudimentary and trivial things to do. You would set up styles and then use a, <p>, <span> or <label> tag to switch the style and consequently the font type with it, just as outlined here with these style settings…

span.sans-serif { font-family: sans-serif; }
span.serif { font-family: serif; }
span.monospace { font-family: monospace; }

…and the following HTML paragraph.

<p>This is an example for a <span class=”sans-serif”>sans-serif font</span>, while this is a switch to a <span class=”monospace”>monospace font</span> and this here a quick look at a <span class=”serif”>serif font</span>.</p>

Unfortunately on various occasions, Apple has decided, for unfathomable reasons, to break with convention and create implementations that are more tedious than they really need to be. The approach I just illustrated is not working in iBooks—or rather I should say, it is not always working. Especially when you use embedded fonts that are included using the @font-face rule, you will find that they simply do not show up.

There are two small additional steps that are necessary to get iBooks to properly display your fonts, though small they may be, they are also incredibly cumbersome.

The process involves getting inside the actual ePub file and adding information. Fortunately Calibre lets us do that fairly elegantly, but it is nonetheless a tedium because you will have to do this every time you rebuild your book.

When you right-click your book in Calibre a context menu appears and you will find an entry called “Edit the book” at the bottom of the list. Naturally you will first have to build an ePub version of your book for this to show up, but when you select it, a new window will open showing you the structure of the eBook on the left hand side and the file contents at the center. You now have access to the internal structure of the ePub file, which is a packaged-up assortment of individual files, actually.

In the Files Browser window on the left side of the screen scroll down to the Miscellaneous area where you will find a file called content.opf. Double-click that file and its contents will be displayed in the large window at the center of the screen.

Now enter the following code in that file

<meta property="ibooks:specified-fonts">true</meta>

Best place it right at the end of the <metadata> section just before the closing </metadata> tag.

Now comes the trickier part. We actually need to include a completely new file. First open up a text editor and create a new text file. There, enter the following lines


<display_options>
   <platform name="*"> <!-- allowed values for platform "iphone", "ipad", or "*" for all -->
     <option name="specified-fonts">true <!-- must be set to "true" for embedded fonts -->
   </platform>
</display_options>

and then save the file as com.apple.ibooks.display-options.xml. Alternatively, simply right-click this link and save the file to your computer.

addbtnWith the “Edit Book” details page still open in Calibre, click on the “New File” icon in the upper left corner of the window.

Now enter meta-inf/com.apple.ibooks.display-options.xml in the dialog box and then click on the “Import resource file” button. Locate and chose the com.apple.ibooks.display-options.xml file just we created and hit the “Open” button, followed by “Okay.” You will now see that the file com.apple.ibooks.display-options.xml is appearing in the “Miscellaneous” section of the book structure.

savebtnNow save your changes and close the “Edit Book” window. Back on the Calibre main screen, hit the “Save to Disc” button to save the modified ePub version to your computer.

That is it. You now have properly embedded the necessary information in your ePub file that makes it possible for iOS devices to correctly display different fonts.

If you do not use Calibre, you can also make these changes by hand. All you have to do is unzip your ePub file using whatever software you would ordinarily use to unzip a regular ZIP file.

Once completed, you will find a subfolder on your computer, containing the individual files the eBook consists of. Locate the file content.opf and make the same changes I described above.

Then navigate into the meta-inf subfolder and place the file com.apple.ibooks.display-options.xml in there. The process to create or obtain the file is the same one I described earlier.

The changes are now complete, but will have to zip all these files back up into an ePub file.

This is best done using a command line version of your zip tool. Once you have opened a command line or terminal on your computer, navigate to the directory where your actual eBook files are that you need to zip up. Then enter the following command.

zip -X0 ebook.zip mimetype

This creates the base package for the eBook. We now zip all the content files into it using the following command

zip -rDX9 ebook.zip * -x "*.DS_Store" -x mimetype

Once this is complete, you will see a new file called ebook.zip in the folder. All we need to do is rename it now. If you are working on a Windows computer, simply enter the following command.

ren ebook.zip title_of_your_book.epub

Alternatively, if you are working on a Mac, the following command will do the trick

mv ebook.zip title_of_your_book.epub

That’s all there is to it. Keep in mind, however, that these steps will have to be repeated every time you rebuild the book!


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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On many occasions I’ve kept repeating that it is generally not a good idea to use word processors to export eBooks directly, and whenever I make that statement I am frequently greeted by push-back from authors who are perfectly happy doing it because it works for them.

I guess the operative phrase here is, “works for them.”

Exporting a clean manuscript from a word processor can work if you are dealing with a novel that has nothing but the most basic formatting. I have to point out, however, that not a lot of the books I work on for my clients fall into that category and typically have a few formatting features that require more attention to detail.

In these conversations I have with authors, a lot of folks also seem to think that Scrivener is the ultimate solution and does a perfect job exporting eBooks, a notion that I am going to shred in a moment. First, however, it is important for me to point out that I am a huge fan of Scrivener. I have used it for years. I have written 15 books in Scrivener and I would not consider any other software for the task. I have, however, never considered it to be an eBook exporter. It’s my writing software. Nothing else.

I am saying this because I want you to understand that it is not my intention to discredit Scrivener here. Rather, I want to debunk the myth that Scrivener’s eBook export is perfect and want to show a simple example in which Scrivener’s eBook exporter can completely destroy your eBook.

scrivex1

Imagine, if you would, that you have a small quote you want to format so that it is right-aligned on the page. However, since it is a quote, you do not want it to run the entire width of the page. To make it look nice and neat, you want it to run just, let’s say 20em wide, so that it turns out to be a neat little block of text on the right side of the page.

In Scrivener – or any other word processor for that matter – you would select the text, turn on right-alignment and use the ruler to scale down the width of the printable area. Alternatively, you could have a prepared style that does the same thing, of course, and simply apply it to the text. Makes no difference. The key here is that in order to achieve the proper limited-width word-wrapping, you will have to adjust the printable width.

It looks neat and nice, right? Just until you export it.

If you export a section like this to an ePub file, you will find that your page is mysteriously empty. That’s right. There won’t be anything on the page. What is happening?

In order to understand what is going on, it helps to look at the ePub file that Scrivener creates, and very quickly it becomes obvious that it fell into a major format trap.

Because of limitations in eBooks, in order to create the 20em text canvas on the right hand side of the page, Scrivener decided fake it by simply increasing the left hand margin. It’s a valid approach, no doubt. If you think of the entire page width as 100%, increasing the left margin to 80%, leaves 20% for our quote to be printed. The logic is fine. The execution is not.

First of all, we are not working with percentages. Why? Because if you are looking at a cell phone screen, there is a good chance that 20% of that screen width would barely fit a single word. We cannot allow that to happen. We need something that relates to the text size first and to the display size second.

To accommodate the problem, Scrivener decided to lay it out using em-spacing, which is exactly as it should be. The problem is that it looks at the actual page inside the Scrivener window to calculate the page width. Since the windows on my computer desktop is a lot wider than that of a cellphone screen or even a regular eBook device, the measurements are all off. Scrivener creates a left margin of 80em, and as a result our actual quote is printed off-screen in its entirety. That’s why you see an empty page.

ZenCoverThis is just one example of the unforeseen pitfalls you can run into when you simply rely on a software exporter to do the work for you. There are a myriad of other problems lurking to pop up when you least expect it. These software exporters are great at doing the grunt work, but they are exceptionally poor when it comes to create output that is actually compatible with real-world applications.

A much better way is to take control of your eBook files yourself. Instead of relying on exporting them, which is a hack and a shortcut at best, properly format them yourself. Use methodologies that have proven to work across platforms, such as the approach I outline in my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial series and my book “Zen of eBook Formatting,” which is a step-by-step guide from the most basic beginnings to fully advanced eBook layout features. Feel free to download a free reading sample on Amazon and see for yourself.


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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In recent days I’ve been visiting a number of message boards related to the indie author community. It is something I had not done in a long time. In over a year or two, in fact. The other day, however, I decided to take a look at some of the forums I used to frequent and realized that the amount of misinformation spread on these message boards is simply horrifying. Particularly when it comes to eBook formatting.

The reason for that is not so much that people are malicious, but that they are oblivious to the many problems inherent in the eBook formatting field that they think what seemed to have worked for them is a universal formula that will work for everyone.

ZenCoverThe problem is that they are sadly mistaken because their own efforts were severely flawed – they just never realized it. Whenever someone recommends to export a manuscript from a word processor or Scrivener, you are seeing one of the biggest mistakes perpetuating. If eBooks are to grow and mature, authors have to realize that formatting eBooks is not a one-click affair. Probably never will be. It takes effort, expertise and a certain know how.

But it works for me, you may say. As I mentioned. It doesn’t. You only think it does, but with five or more generations of eBook devices in the market by now, each with different limitations, quirks and firmware bugs, no word processor exporter will be able to produce an eBook that works reliable on all these platforms.

For that reason I have decided to publish here an excerpt from my book Zen of eBook Formatting, which explains in more detail why you should never ever ever ever use an exporter to build your eBook. For much more information and techniques that will help you create professional-grade eBooks, please make sure to take a closer look at the book. But please, read on…


The Road to Right

Understanding eBook readers

Before we dive headlong into the technical aspects of the creation of eBooks, I believe it is important to understand eReaders a bit better, and how these devices have shaped and changed the way we are experiencing books.

eBook readers have originally been designed with novels in mind. Nothing else. The idea was to make it possible to read novels in digital form, and when you look at novels you will quickly realize that there isn’t a whole lot to them from a presentational standpoint. They have a cover, some front matter and then it’s just reams and reams of text, interrupted only by the occasional page break to mark the beginning of a new chapter. With that in mind it is hardly surprising that eBook readers originally did not have a lot more functionality beyond that. Even today, many eBook readers do not go a whole lot further than this, which creates a very unique set of challenges when you format eBooks. This becomes particularly evident when you leave the novel segment behind and begin to look at non-fiction books where these limitations often become very obvious very quickly.

One of the biggest challenges we oftentimes face as we prepare eBooks has to do with the fact that we cannot know which device or software our customers will use to read the book. It could be a Kindle or Nook with a black and white eInk screen, but it could just as well be a cell phone with a tiny display, a tablet with a nice high definition color screen or a desktop computer with a humungous widescreen monitor attached to it. We have no way of knowing, and we have no way of identifying these different devices, all of which have very different capabilities and create very different reading experiences. A page layout that works on a large screen may suddenly become unreadable and garbled on a small screen, especially because navigation of eBooks is oftentimes very limited and cumbersome.

Another limitation that I have to explain very frequently is that eBook readers do not support a whole lot of different fonts. While some eReaders may offer a variety of different typefaces, the problem is that they are not standardized and are oftentimes not available on other devices. Therefore, using these fonts will dramatically alter the way your book will look and flow on a different device. To make matters worse, custom fonts are not universally supported by eReaders, making it impossible to, perhaps, use that one font you have always loved so much and used in your print layout of the book.

The first thing you need to understand when formatting eBooks is that they are completely different from print books. It is a different world altogether. The sooner you get away from the idea that your eBook should reflect the look and layout of your print book, the sooner you will get satisfying results. Many of the layout possibilities you have in print design, such as text inserts, text boxes, tables, the ability to have page content rotated to fill the page in a landscape format, images with text flowing around them, a multitude of custom fonts, and others, are simply not feasible in eBooks for the most part.

“Feasible” is the operative word in this context. Many of these features are available on the latest generation of eBook devices, particularly tablets like the iPad or Kindle Fire devices. The problem is that they represent only a small portion of the market, and if you want your book to sell, you cannot afford to single out a niche segment of the market like this. In fact, even if you wanted to, it is not even realistically possible, because Amazon, for example, will sell your book to any Kindle owner, not just those who own a tablet. If an eBook that has been formatted using all these newfangled fancy features suddenly ends up on a first-, second- or third-generation Kindle, the results are not only unpredictable, they are going to be abominable. And I mean abominable.

I doubt you would want to present your readers with garbled screens and have your name attached to it, and therefore it is always important to create a common denominator and build eBooks that uphold that denominator throughout the formatting process.

zen Our goal is to create eBooks that can be properly displayed on any device using any screen size!

In order to achieve such a baseline, we need to be aware of the limitations that different eBook formats and devices present, but we also have to take into consideration a variety of quirks and firmware bugs that you will find in these devices. This may sound trickier than it actually is, because in this book I will guide you, and safely steer you away from these potential pitfalls.

Why you should not use a word processor

When I visit message boards for authors on the Internet, I frequently come across the same question over and over again, followed by what is effectively the same advice over and again. Sadly, in my opinion, the recommendations are all too often ill-advised and tend to create more problems in the tail-end than they solve.

What I am referring to is the question that aspiring independent authors routinely ask once they get to the stage where they want to self-publish their books, “How do I create an eBook?” Aside from the noise that such a question inevitably generates, the tenor of responses usually goes something like “You can export an ePub file from your word processor” or “Take your word processor file and upload it to insert-your-favorite-conversion-service-here for conversion.”

To me, these responses are usually not real advice, but rather, flawed opinions. Someone suggests the procedure because it worked for them, wholly unaware that the process is richly flawed, and of the fact that their own eBooks resulting from said procedure are oftentimes riddled with problems. Not to mention that the way to get there frequently resembled a gauntlet of cumbersome obstacles and tests of patience.

Real advice, on the other hand gives you the opportunity to make an educated decision based on the evaluation of information. So, allow me to give you a real piece of advice.

zen Do not use a word processor as the source to create an eBook file from. That’s not what they are designed for.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not knocking word processors here. In fact, all of the 15 books I have written I wrote in Scrivener, including this one, but no matter what anyone will tell you, as you will see in a moment, word processors—and that includes “Scrivener”—are not very good at what eBooks do, and are therefore the wrong tools for the job when the time comes to create an eBook from your finished manuscript. It’s like deciding to hand someone a spoon and asking them to dig out a swimming pool. It is certainly possible, but at what cost?

In life, the proper tools will always make your work easier, because tools are designed for a specific task. They will perform that particular task better than any other tool, and should therefore always be your first choice. You would never use a blender to mix waffle batter, yet that is exactly what many authors are doing when they try to export eBooks straight out of a word processor.

Word processors have been designed to enable writers. They are the replacement of the typewriter—in case you still remember those. Their goal is to make it possible for people to write text as quickly, cleanly and efficiently as possible, allowing them to simply dump their thoughts onto a computerized sheet of paper and to edit it at a whim. In order to make this as easy as possible, word processing software puts a number of additional tools at the writer’s disposal, which come in very handy and are designed to help keep writers focused on the task. That is the job of word processing software.

However, as computers have become more powerful and software companies realized that they can’t keep selling the same toolset to people over and over again, they began to add features. Slowly at first, further making the writing flow more practical, it soon deteriorated into what software developers know as feature creep. It is a phenomenon that has cropped up across all branches of software development and describes the situation when features are continually being added to software without any real purpose, other than their own sake. If you take a look at today’s word processing packages you will quickly realize that they contain an overkill of flashy features designed solely to impress users. At the same time, these packages contain a smorgasbord of obscure features, many of which are actually helpful to writers but not very sexy to market. Many of them are so forgotten that most users don’t even know they exist. Or did you know that your word processor probably contains a generator to create random text? Better yet, did you know that it probably contains a feature that allows you to create “Lorem Ipsum?”

Which brings us to the next problem with word processors. Year upon year they have encroached upon what used to be known as the Desktop Publishing space. It started with simple WYSIWYG attempts, and today virtually all word processors in the market pretend to be able to do full page layout. I say “pretend” because despite thinking of themselves as being the jack of all trades, the desktop publishing features in word processors are usually completely worthless. Problems ranging from ridiculous sixteen linked-up text-box limits to erratic object handling, unpredictable text flow behavior and errors, make them pretenders in the truest sense of the word, rather than contenders.

I am rambling, I know, and I am certain you are wondering why I am telling you all this. The reason is simple. These days word processors try to do too much and obscure too much in the process with their glossy varnish—from the point of view of an eBook designer, that is.

All these fancy WYSIWYG text layout features are useless if they can’t be properly converted into eBooks and that, in fact, is the crux of the matter. Word processors are almost by definition inept in enforcing text output that needs to be formatted for variable text flow—a feature crucial to a good eBook.

To illustrate the point, let me show you the following word processor screenshot.

Screenshot 2

As you can see we have three paragraphs of text here, each formatted with a first-line indentation and extra line spacing between each paragraph. Simple enough, right? It’s what a manuscript should look like in the computer.

The problem here is in the detail, however. What you don’t see is what will run you to the edge of madness when the time comes to create an eBook, so let’s take a closer look.

The first paragraph created the indentation using a tabulation character, the one generated when you hit the TAB key on your computer keyboard, while the second paragraph achieved its indentation by inserting a series of white spaces—blanks. The third paragraph on the other hand achieved the same goal by using a style formatting, telling the word processor to automatically indent the first line in every paragraph by a certain amount without requiring any typed characters.

Three very different approaches to achieve the same thing. And notice how all of them seem to look the same in the word processor. When they are directly exported to an eBook, however, the result becomes unpredictable because all three of these approaches generate different kinds of eBook paragraphs that may or may not look the same in the end.

Make a mental note, if you will, which approach you think is the best way to handle first-line indentation. We will talk about it in a bit more detail later on in the book.

This is but a small exploration of the problems inherent in that one little screenshot. If you look at the separation of paragraphs, you are actually seeing another ugly beast rearing its head when the time comes to create an eBook. The first paragraph has been set apart from the second using an extra line feed character—inserted by pressing the Enter or Return key on the keyboard. To set apart the third from the second paragraph, however, we have once again applied style formatting instead, which tells the software to automatically insert extra line spacing of a certain height after every paragraph.

Are you seeing what I am driving at, yet? Since each of these paragraphs has been created differently, there is a very real risk that each of them will look differently once you let the word processor export your text to an eBook.

One could argue that many of these problems can be avoided by using the same way throughout the entire document, but let’s face it, in the real world, very few people are so disciplined and organized that they apply the proper style setting every time they italicize text or want to create an indentation, particularly over the period of time it usually takes to write an entire book. Since we cannot easily see existing formatting errors in the word processor, we are always teetering on the edge of hidden defects using this methodology. While turning on the display of hidden characters—a feature most word processors feature—might help in some cases, it obfuscates the actual text to the point that it becomes unreadable and you lose all sense of flow and white space. Therefore it is not of much use either, especially because to catch certain problems areas takes a very good eye. Imagine having to spot a stray TAB character in a 120,000 word novel. Yeah, right, good luck with that.

I could bore you with countless other examples where things can go horribly wrong, but since you are reading this book, I assume you already figured that out for yourself, and you are looking for a better way to do things. As authors in the real world, what we need is a way to create eBooks that produce reliable results, and word processors simply don’t do that, no matter how you turn it. What is needed, is a different approach.

zen Each device handles formatting differently and contains glitches that are beyond your control. The only way to work around these glitches is by manually addressing them in your source code. No word processor exporter can do that for you!

But even if you were the most disciplined writer in the universe and would avoid all these pitfalls, there is another problem over which you have no control. The market has gone through various iterations of devices by now and new generations of devices are introduced on an annual basis, it seems. You have black&white eInk readers, tablets, cell phones, and software readers for desktop computers, not to mention countless cheap eBook readers from China. Each of these devices have their own idiosyncrasies. Their little peccadillos, one could say. iOS devices, like the iPad and iPhone, for example, do not follow the standard implementation when it comes to switching fonts. They also have trouble centering content, requiring special work-arounds. Other devices do not scale images correctly, others yet, like the Kindle do not calculate spacing correctly. The list of glitches and firmware bugs is endless and gets longer with every new device and with each new firmware upgrade.

Your word processor does not care about these. If you’re lucky, it will create an eBook that follows the format standards—though even that is often dubious. It does not, however, take any of these device specific quirks into consideration. Aside from the invisible formatting glitches these exporters are prone to introduce, this is the single biggest problem you will run into when using an exporter to create your eBook for you.

Many authors will check the resulting ebook on their own device, and if its displays correctly, they simply assume that the software did its job properly. This may turn out to be a sore error in judgment. Try loading it on a first-generation Kindle, however, or a Kindle DX, or the Kindle reader on the iPhone, or on an older Nook, or a first-generation iBook device, and very quickly you may see how all your well-laid plans fall to pieces. The only way to address these kinds of problems is to manually identify the glitches and implement work-arounds that address them. There is simply no shortcut for it, no matter how much you may wish otherwise, but with the help of this book you will be able to circumnavigate the most common problems.

The road to Right

After having spent a lot of time up to this point, telling you how you should not create an eBook, I will no longer hold you back with explanations of Wrong and instead will point your heads forward and look down the less rocky road to Right.

Let’s start with a quick overview over the process I am proposing, just so you get a general idea of what you’re going to get yourself into. Depending on your level of expertise, this might or might not be all that intimidating at first, but let me assure you that there is no magic involved, and that every task can be performed by virtually anyone familiar with a computer. Remember, the key lies, as so often, in getting the right tools for the job and putting them to work for you.

The majority of eBook formats that are in use today are nothing more than a packaged collection of HTML files. Yes, the same kind of files used to create and display web pages. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It actually makes a lot of sense. HTML has been created to allow the same information to be displayed on a wide variety of display devices regardless of their capabilities. Whether your computer monitor has a high or a low resolution, whether you are running your browser fullscreen or in a small window, on an old or a new computer, a cell phone or a tablet, basic HTML pages will always be able to display their contents properly in any of these environments.

The same is essentially true for eBooks. Since we don’t know what device or software the reader will use to read our eBooks, it only makes sense to utilize a format that has been designed for that very purpose, doesn’t it? A format that has free text reflow capabilities and can easily embed images and other media. You might recall how I told you that you can actually embed video in your eBooks if you want to, and now you know, why.

HTML is a format perfectly suitable for the needs of the eBook community and all it really lacks is digital rights management, or copy protection to put it in plain old English. To accommodate that, some of the eBook formats are encrypted internally, but that is really none of our concern at this point. Let other people worry about that. We just want to package our book in a digital format that can be used by eReaders for the time being.

zen Garbage in, garbage out!


ZenCoverThis was an excerpt from my book Zen of eBook Formatting, and I hope you have found it helpful. Perhaps it even convinced you that it might be worthwhile learning more about eBook formatting, the techniques and sills necessary to produce eBooks on a professional level of quality. For much more information and techniques that will help you create professional-grade eBooks, please make sure to take a closer look at the book on Amazon.

If 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.

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As self-publishing, independent authors, to typically relish in the freedom we have suddenly be handed, allowing us to truly own our books, cradling and nourishing them from the very first word, all the way until we usher them out the door through self-publishing platforms such as Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

SelfPubI am sure you’ve heard the saying before, that freedom is never free, however, and while not really meant within that context, it is certainly true for self-publishing authors and contains a nugget of wisdom we should all take to heart.

As a self-published author myself, I know how much work goes into a fully finished product, even in an all-digital world. As an eBook formatter for hundreds of independent authors, I also constantly witness the struggles and problems that authors fight. Whether its questions arising on my formatting blog tutorial, my book Zen of eBook Formatting, or through email, I am witness to the tribulations of many writers. Since I am also a reader, constantly looking for new books to feed my mind, browsing Amazon’s Kindle section further helps me understand the situation that presents itself to self-published authors.

This biggest question, I believe, every self-publishing author needs to ask themselves is this: Simply because we can handle everything ourselves, does it also mean that we actually should do so?

Editing

Writing a book is one thing. Editing a book is a different thing entirely. Too many authors either do not understand the process of editing, or they discount its value. Having a bit of ego is good if you’re a writer, but do not let it interfere with your actual work. It is fine to love what you are writing, but make sure you never fall in love with it! What I mean by that is that if you get to the point that you believe no one should have a right to touch your writing, that every comma is exactly where it should be, and that every word in your prose is perfectly concise and where it should be, the odds are that you are overestimating your abilities.

BookEditingEven Mark Twain had an editor. He did not like it, but he did. What he realized, however, is that a different set of eyes brings out shortcomings in writing. Ambiguous expressions, sentences that may not be quite as clear as they were in the writer’s mind, and much more. Even the best writers jump to conclusions because they have this picture in their mind that they try to relay to paper. The picture in their mind is complete in its own way, so they fill in the words to describe the image. But every once in a while, the writer will overlook a small detail that he takes for granted because of the image in his mind. An editor can help in such cases, pointing out the omission or simply helping to clarify the written words through different word usage or sentence structures.

The problem is that too many authors see an editor as the enemy, which they are not. Too many authors see editors as critics with the sole malevolent purpose to tear their work apart and violate it. In the self-publishing world, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at an editor as a fresh set of eyes who can help you streamline your writing, creating a better experience for your readers. After all, you are paying the editor, which makes it perfectly okay for you to reject their comments. There is nothing wrong with looking at the notes of an editor and flat out rejecting some of them because they misinterpret your intentions. But for every one such case, I am certain you will find countless others where the editor’s suggestions will make you think about your writing some more, and perhaps improve it as a result of it. so, why would you want to miss an opportunity to make your writing better?

Proof Reading

A lot of people mistake editing for proof reading, when they are, in fact, two very different things. Naturally, a lot of editors do correct typos and spelling errors, because it often comes naturally as they go through your words with a fine-toothed comb. However, their job is to look at the meaning of your writing, not its fundamentals.

proofreadingThat’s the job of a proof reader, who will ignore all things related to style and grammar, but will instead scan each word in your manuscript to make sure it is spelled according to dictionary standards. This requires a special skill set, different from an editor’s, because a good typesetter is absolutely dictionary proof, which means he has internalized the correct spelling and exact meaning of roughly 500,000 words, plus all of their proper tenses, inflections and cases.

You may confuse your word processor’s spellchecker with a proof reader, but they are not the same thing either, because the spellchecker only looks if the word as such is a valid spelling. It does not determine, whether you are using the proper spelling for the respective word you are trying to us. It will gladly accept the word “hair” instead of “hare,” whereas a proof reader will catch this error and correct it for you.

Having a book that is free of spelling errors and typos is the epitome of publishing and should be every author’s goal, always.

Formatting

Also high on the list is the formatting of eBooks—and the creation of a print layout, for that matter. Once again, you are looking at very specific skill sets here, and unless you do have the technical wherewithal and understanding of what eBooks are, what their technical implementation looks like and what the resulting limitations are, it might not be advisable for you to tackle this end of the publishing pipeline yourself.

zencoverAs you undoubtedly know, I’ve long been an advocate for proper eBook formatting, trying to enable authors with my Take Pride in your eBook Formatting blog tutorial, as well as my book Zen of eBook Formatting.

However, the field of eBook formatting is becoming trickier by the day, and more and more it requires very specialized skill sets and knowledge. With every new eBook reader in the market, with every update to the software readers Amazon, Barnes&Noble or Kobo offers, and with every new cell phone and tablet that enters the market,the playing field becomes harder to control.

When the Kindle was first released, things were easy because it was the target platform. In today’s world Kindle is not even Kindle any longer. There are so many device generations, each of which behaves differently, and there are so many software Kindle readers, each with their own flaws, that formatting a book for the Kindle alone can be a tremendously challenging—and time-consuming—task, depending on your book. But the Kindle is no longer alone. There is the Nook in its countless iterations, there is the Kobo reader, there are hundreds of cheap knock-offs from China… the list has gotten endless. To ensure that a book displays absolutely perfectly on all devices has become a magic trick, almost… something that is almost unattainable for certain books, because there are too few control mechanisms in the eBook format themselves.

And yet, nothing upsets a reader faster than a shoddily formatted eBook. It may just be the number one reason why readers put down a book prematurely, because they cannot see beyond the flawed text flow, the jumping margins, the inconsistent text size, the lack of proper quotes, or the broken indentations. And once a reader has put your book down, the odds are they will never pick it up again, and, what’s even worse, they may never buy another one of your books in the future.

Naturally, for all these services you can hire professionals whose job it is to make sure your work is treated professionally. These collaborators will help you on your road to a successful book with their advice, experience and services. It is for that reason that I have been offering eBook formatting services to authors and publishers for many years; to make sure that digital books will get the same respect as their print counterparts.


If 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 book, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

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zencover I honestly had not expected how much work it would be, putting together my book Zen of eBook Formatting. After all, I had the blog tutorial to build upon, and yet, it took me many months to flesh out the final book, add in all the little details and additions, and tweak it to make sure it is as accurate as I can make it. Part of it had to do with the fact that eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility.

eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility

While the original “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial is still every bit as relevant and applicable today as it was when I first published it a few years back, as soon as you want to go beyond the most basic formatting features, you get caught up very quickly in the morass of device limitations and quirks.

With each new device generation new problems are being introduced, and considering that we are now looking at fifth or sixth generation devices, one can quickly get lost in the maze of dos and donts of eBook formatting.

I am not pointing fingers here because every manufacturer contributes to the problem. Apple with its incompatible ePub implementations in iBooks for one, Amazon for other limitations and countless firmware bugs, Barnes&Noble for a different set of firmware bugs. Each of them making it harder for eBook formatters to navigate these waters and create reliable products.

Switching a font face, for example should be a completely trivial thing. According to the HTML standards which underly both the MOBI and EPUB format, you should be able to switch fonts anytime on a block level. Sadly, this is not true in the world of eBooks.

Typically a code snippet like this should work fine on any device, assuming we have a span style called “newfont” that sets a different font family.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont">switch the font</span></p>

Sadly, all of Apple’s iBooks devices and software do not follow this standard. Not even a snippet like the following one works.

<p class="newfont">Let’s switch the font</p>

iBooks does not recognize font family settings in <p> and <span> elements, which is completely inconsistent with HTML standards. It is not a mere oversight, however, because Apple has been dragging this problem through all iterations of iBooks, since its inception years ago. One can only wonder what Apple’s software engineers are thinking.

If device manufacturers would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like these would not be needed

I found that oftentimes I have to double-stitch solutions, nesting different solutions, so that if one doesn’t work there is always a fallback. The work-around to fix this particular problem is to use another block-level tag in order to pass the information to iBooks.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont"><cite class="newfont">switch the font</cite></span></p>

While this is not the most elegant solution, and purists will scream out at the misuse of the <cite> tag here, the reality of things is that as eBook formatters we currently cannot afford to be purists. We need formatting challenges solved and in this case <cite> addresses a very specific problem. If Apple would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like this would not be needed.

I found that the same kind of double-stitching is sadly needed if you want to strike out text, as in draw a line through it. It is not a very commonly used text feature, but if you need it, it is imperative that it shows up correctly.

Instinctively you would use the <strike> tag, which has been part of the HTML vocabulary since its inception. <strike>, however, has been discontinued with the HTML5 standard, and as a result there are now eReaders that no longer support it. They require the <del> tag instead, which, quite by coincidence, is not supported by some older devices, of course.

As in many cases, double-stitching the solution is the way to go for me and whenever I have to strike out text, it will look like this.

<p>This is how you <strike><del>strike out</del></strike> text.</p>

Once again, not the most elegant solution, but as you format eBooks, you will have to get used to seeing things such as this more and more often. As I said, with every new generation of eBook devices, the number of these types of inconsistencies will grow and the need to find and apply band-aid solutions will sadly grow with it.

If you want to find out more about basic and advanced eBook formatting techniques, make sure to check out my new book Zen of eBook Formatting, which details all the necessary steps to create professional-grade eBooks.


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

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The past months I kept myself busy completing a new book on the subject of eBook formatting, as many of you may know. I am happy to announce that the book is finally available! For only $5.99 you can now benefit from the years of experience I have had as a professional eBook formatter, learning the ins and outs and the tricks of the trade I have applied to many hundreds of eBooks from New York Times bestselling writers and indie authors alike.

zencoverZen of eBook Formatting is in the same vein as my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial series, but it goes way beyond that, as it is vastly expanded and updated. Whether you are a PC or a Mac user, in the book I am taking readers through the entire workflow that I am using every day for the projects I am working on for my clients. In an easy to understand manner—I hope—I am not only listing the steps, but also explain why these steps are necessary and why I do things the way I do them. The result is a tutorial-style self-help book that is chock full of examples, tips, tricks and coding snippets.

Having formatted close to 1,000 eBooks at this time, I am covering the entire process, from the basic manuscript cleanup, to the basics of HTML and simple markup, all the way to advanced techniques that allow you to add an incredible amount of polish to your eBooks without necessarily sacrificing device compatibility.

Just to give you an impression of the breadth of subjects I am covering, here is the Table of Contents for you.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1 – The Road to Right
    • Understanding eBook readers
    • Why you should not use a word processor
    • The road to Right
    • Tools of the trade
  • 2 – Data Structure
    • HTML
    • CSS
    • Prepping your style sheet
  • 3 – Cleaning Up the Manuscript
    • The Power of Em
    • Time to clean up your manuscript
    • Fixing up styles
  • 4 – From Word Processor to Programming Editor
    • Nice, clean and predictable in HTML
    • Paragraphs are the meat
    • Fleshing it out
    • Dealing with special characters…the right way
    • A word about fonts
  • 5 – General Techniques
    • Centering content
    • Images
    • Image resolution
    • Chapters
    • Typography and Layout
  • 6 – Advanced Techniques
    • Chapters
    • Initials
    • First-line capitalization
    • Formatting inserts and notes
    • Formatting emails and text messages
    • Image blocks with byline
    • Custom fonts
    • Linking to the outside world
    • Lists
    • Backgrounds and Color
  • 7 – eBook Generation
    • eBook formats
    • Meta-Data
    • The Cover
    • The TOC in the digital world
    • Calibre
    • More control with XPath
    • KindleGen
    • Error-checking
  • 8 – eBooks Outside the Box
    • A Word about Fixed-Layout Books
    • Preparing for Smashwords
  • Parting Thoughts
  • 9 – Appendices
    • Chart of named entities
    • Resources
  • About the Author
  • Also by Guido Henkel

The key to me, when putting together this book, has been to make it possible for anyone to create an eBook that has a professional level of presentation. Too many authors use shortcuts to create eBook version of their manuscripts, flooding the market with broken and sub-par product that leaves a bad taste in readers’ minds, when in fact, applying a little bit of discipline could elevate them from that riffraff and make their books like a million bucks.

Zen of eBook Formatting is targeted at all those of us, who care about their books, not only the words we wrote, but also that they are presented to the reader in a clean and professional manner that works on as many eReaders as possible. Hopefully, with Zen of eBook Formatting at hand, this goal will be within reach for many more authors.

Grab your copy of the book an Amazon now!


If 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.

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Over the past three years or so since I first published my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” series of tutorials here on the site, a lot of people have asked if I would make the tutorials available as an eBook as well. For a number of reasons I never created an eBook on the subject, in part because I simply could not spare the time to put it together. If I wanted to release something like this as an eBook it would clearly have to be cleaned up and expanded upon in order to warrant any sort of price tag attached to it.

Well, over the past few weeks I took a look at the tutorials again and I have finally decided to create an eBook on the subject of eBook formatting. Since my tutorial series has become the de facto standard in the industry and is being used by countless authors to prepare their books for the market, I felt it was finally time to take it to the next level.

As I pointed out above, creating a mere reprint of the blog tutorials is not at all what I have in mind. Instead I have spend these past weeks reworking the instructions to give the entire process a clearer structure, but also to add many of the topics and elements that I did not touch upon in these tutorials. The tutorials were designed, really, to get people started, but with a book I feel it requires a lot more in-depth information to be of any value at all. It needs to be more complete, and as a result, the book will consist of a section with basic techniques that will get you to your first eBook, much the way the tutorials did, but in addition, the book will contain a section with advanced techniques in which I will describe how to achieve certain effects and how to handle certain formatting challenges that pop up every day, but require a bit more explanation and additional skill. Naturally, I am trying to keep it very accessible still to ensure readers can easily follow the instructions and examples.

Over the years I have seen many blogs that touch upon the subject of eBook formatting and some of the posts I came across were frightening—in the sense that they promoted techniques that are highly unsafe. While they achieved the goal for that particular individual, oftentimes the approach was nothing short of reckless, using very specific device capabilities without pointing out to the user that this behavior is not supported by other devices or that it can actually create unexpected behavior and lead to page corruption. Clearly, these authors never had the time to fully explore the techniques they were proposing, or didn’t have the foresight that their suggestion could create more problems than they actually solved.

In my book I have maintained my long-held stance that eBook compatibility is one of the highest priorities. The goal is to create eBooks that look good on any reader out there, whether it is a tiny cell phone or a large desktop computer. I am a professional eBook formatter (Click here for more information if you are interested in my services) and I have prepared more than 700 books for release in the market, by an enormously wide range of authors and styles. Of these 700 books not a single one has been known to cause formatting problems, clearly showing that with insight and forethought, it is possible to create eBooks that are compatible even in a market as fragmented as eBooks.

I am sure it won’t surprise you that many of the techniques outlined in my book will cover the subject of eBook formatting from that angle, offering up safe solutions, or, where no safe solutions are available, at least pointing out the risks and challenges and how they can be minimized by the formatter.

Filled with tips, tricks, techniques, examples, screenshots and plenty of code, the book will hopefully become a one-stop solution for all authors who want to dive in to the technical side of their eBook projects.


Would you like to use my services?

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

Do you need a cover for your book? Check here for more information.

In need of an author website or blog? Email me at for more information.

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We are heading into year six of the digital book revolution and while there have been tremendous advancements in the sector, one thing has not changed a bit. There still is no magic bullet for eBook formatting. It’s not even anywhere on the horizon.

Dragonlance1In a time where eBook readers have become increasingly powerful and capable, and where more authors than ever put their content out in the market, one would think that formatting manuscripts to publish them as eBooks should be as trivial as exporting them from a word processor, but alas, that is not the case. Whether it’s releases from small indie authors or titles from major publishers, I continued to stumble across eBooks that are shoddy at best. Just a few months ago I was re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles by Hickman/Weiss—a staple of high fantasy literature that has been in print for 30 years now, and yet, the eBook versions are an abomination in many ways. While it is evident that some work went into the books, they are nonetheless riddled with formatting errors that clearly show that no one at Wizards of the Coast took a single look at the books once they were formatted, let away read them before they went out the virtual door.

Is that truly the promise of the digital age? That we have to content ourselves with mediocre quality and sloppy presentations? It is just because it’s easy and cheap to produce and anyone with a computer can do it? Or is it because price points have come down so much, resulting in content creators and publishers no longer caring about the products the way they used to, because it’s all considered shovelware, anyway?

I’ve said it many times, but it is well worth repeating. The formatting of your eBook is every bit as important as your cover and your story. If your book becomes unreadable because line breaks are mutilated, margins jump all over the place, fonts get butchered, graphics become indistinguishable or errant page breaks destroy the flow, you are in trouble. I have put aside more than a handful of books after a few chapters because I found the reading experience too egregious — and I am sure that I am not the only one. (I remember vividly, the first one this ever happened to me was Charlie Courtland’s “Dandelions in the Garden,” for which I paid $9.99 on the Kindle and had to put down after two chapters because every single page was riddled with a multitude of typos, grammatical errors and formatting flaws-all of which the author herself considered a matter of personal taste and absolutely acceptable.)

Sure, the temptation is enormous as a writer. You have finally completed your book after a year’s worth of writing and—hopefully—tweaking, and without a publisher to hold you back for another year, you are eager to put your work out in the market, in the hands of readers. Nothing wrong with that. The problem really starts when you believe that the “Export as ePub” function in your word processor is your road to an instant release.

Kitt PirateWord processors are a great piece of software, but they are designed to write text and to do a bit of layout work, perhaps. All of it with your computer screen or a printed page in mind. Absolutely nothing in a word processor is designed for the requirements of eBooks. The famed “Export as ePub” function was nothing but an afterthought in that software, that has been included because someone thought it may help sell a few extra copies of the word processor or entice the growing army of aspiring digital authors to finally upgrade their software package.
eBooks have very specific requirements, capabilities and limitations, and they are not adequately represented by word processors. Things that look right on the screen or the printed page may not work the same way on an eBook reader.

While it is possible to create a good eBook with a word processor, it requires intimate familiarity with the software’s features. If, for example, you do not know what the difference between a soft and a hard line break is, let away how to create each, or if you do not know how to properly space text and paragraphs, the odds are, you won’t be able to create a solid eBook output. If you’re not familiar with your word processor’s style functions and are not religiously and obsessively using them, or if you do not know how to properly create an automatic bulleted list in your word processor, chances are that you are not ready to export your manuscript as an eBook using the “Export as ePub” feature. The list goes on like this.

I am not here to make you feel bad, because considering how complex word processors are these days, few of us truly master the software. But that’s not the point. You don’t have to, if you’re a writer. Your job is to write a cool story, pack it all up nicely in a suspenseful and engaging way that keeps readers glued to your words. Making sure it fits the technical limitations of an eBook reader is someone else’s job. Or rather, it should be. Someone with an understanding of the technical side of things, and with the ability to whip your writing into such shape that it works on any device. It’s a specialized field of expertise where the experience you purchase will save you countless hours of headache and will protect you from having to deal with potentially countless upset readers and customers.

It may be fulfilling to see your complex layout with text flowing around images and wonderfully elaborate drop cap initials on your iPad after exporting it as an ePub file from your word processor, but have you ever wondered, what the book may look like on another device? An early-generation Kindle, a Nook, perhaps, or the Kobo reader? What about a tiny cell phone or a retina computer retina display? Not all devices that people read your books on are equal. There are huge gaps in capabilities between various devices, and your software exporter cannot—and will not—accommodate them. It won’t even try. It will try to create what the programmer who wrote it deemed best, even if it means that in the real world you are leaving 90% of the market by the roadside.

Even within device families there are enormous capability differences. The Kindles, for example, by far the most popular eBook readers, range from a device that is barely capable of displaying an image (Kindle 1) to a full-blown tablet that can do virtually anything, including play games. Most Kindle devices have serious glitches and firmware bugs that got progressively worse with each generation. I made a blog post about the subject three years ago and it is frightening to see that Amazon never addressed as single one of these “10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle”. So, when you format an eBook, you definitely need to be mindful of these differences and idiosyncrasies at all times.

But back to even the general capabilities. Amazon for all the great stuff they’ve been doing for the eBook revolution, has completely dropped the ball on various fronts over the past years, clearly indicating that the company simply looks forward without ever trying to patch up previous mistakes. As a result there is no easy way to bridge these different capabilities in any workable way.

Ideally you would want the ability to create dedicated eBooks for devices with different capabilities, but sadly Amazon and every other distribution outlet does not allow for that. You have to have one build of your book that serves all devices. While Amazon allows a bit of conditional formatting, it is in reality very basic stuff that is so rudimental that it is mostly useless. Therefore you are forced to build your eBooks for a common denominator and you have to make sure it will work on all the devices out there.

No “Export to ePub” feature does that, which brings us back to the point that you should work with people who specialize on that kind of thing. As you may know, I have written an extensive eBook formatting tutorial some time ago, and I am offering eBook and print formatting as services. The truly amazing thing about the tutorial is that over time it has become the de facto standard for the industry and that that even now, four years after I wrote it, it is still valid and applicable in every single aspect. In a world where technology moves at such a rapid pace, it is clearly a testimony to the quality of the underlying fundamentals of the tutorial. Every book formatted following the tutorial still works on every device out there, and it is still the same general process I apply when formatting my clients’ eBooks.

On the IslandIf you would rather focus on your writing and leave the technical aspects of your ebooks to people like me, feel free to send me an email. I have formatted over 700 books, all of which are available in eBook stores worldwide, and many of them are full blown bestsellers selling hundreds of thousands of copies. And among these roughly 700 books, not a single one has caused any problems in the past!

If you want to make sure your readers are happy with the eBook you sold them, and if you want to make sure the books won’t be returned because of weird glitches or formatting errors, feel free to take a look at this page where I am outlining my services and my fees. I am happy to work with all sorts of authors and publishers, big and small, to make sure they can publish their books with confidence.

Forget about the promises of a magic bullet. It does not exist. Instead, take the proper steps to ensure the quality of your eBook from the inside out.

For more information and professional tips and tricks, please make sure to also check out my new book Zen of eBook Formatting, which is now available on Amazon.

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The announcement of the next generation of Amazon’s Kindle has set the eBook world abuzz once again. Not only are the new models more attractive than their predecessors, but they also expand the market in new, untapped territories. For authors, this is great news, of course, but often, where there’s light there’s also darkness.

Kindle PaperwhiteIn this case, the cloud on the horizon lies in the technical specs of these new devices. With a bit of worry I have observed over the past year or two that the eBook market is becoming more and more fragmented. In a very bad way, it reminds me of the mobile game space I have also been working in, where, at times, it was necessary for us to build up to 200 different versions of the same app to make sure it properly supports all the handsets in the market.

While the eBook market is not nearly as bad, of course, there is an increasing trend of changes – or call them features and improvements – that can work like sand in a ball bearing.

Fortunately we have to contend with only two generic eBook formats at this time – MOBI/KF8 and EPUB – and it is easy enough to build eBooks for both formats from the same sources.

However, since the inception of the iPad, problems have cropped up that force eBook publishers and formatters to think very hard about what it is they want to do and how to achieve the desired effect. Fixed-layout books and their particular quirks, and the lack of a general standard to create them, is just one of the issues publishers have to tackle these days, and it is exacerbated by the fact that even within the Kindle line of products, it is not possible to really create specialized builds for each platform. A fixed-format Kindle Fire eBook will inevitably make its way onto a regular Kindle – where it doesn’t belong – because Amazon does not give publishers the possibility to create specialized builds. As a result Kindle owners will look at a book that is horribly mangled and probably unreadable, while it looks mesmerizing on a Kindle Fire. I am not sure in whose best interest that is, but that’s the way Amazon does it.

The reason I am writing about this is because according to Amazon, the new Kindle Paperwhite line of models offers 65% more pixels. In plain English, it means it has a higher resolution than previous Kindles. That is really great news in regards to sharpness of the text, of course, but from a formatting standpoint it causes certain problems. An image that was perfectly sized for the Kindle’s 600-pixel resolution to date, will suddenly appear much, much smaller on the page. In many instances, this will not be overly dramatic, but if you use images deliberately as a design element, it will force you to rethink how you approach images in eBooks. Just image how tiny the image will look like when it’s being displayed on the new Kindle Fire HD with a resolution that is three times as wide as that of the original Kindle.


How would you like your artful chapter heading to look like?

In the past I have sized images to suit the 600 pixel screen. It helped keep the file size in bay – why bulk up a book’s footprint for no apparent reason, especially since the publisher is being charged for the delivery of the book based on the size of the file. This approach may no longer work, however, if you want high quality images across the board.

I’ve been therefore rethinking my strategy and going forward I am sizing images to a higher resolution and then determine their on-screen size, using scaling through my CSS style sheet. This allows me to make sure the image will always appear the same on the display, without degrading it on higher resolution screens. If anything, it may degrade the quality scaling images down to the older Kindle models.

If Amazon offered platform specific builds for their line of Kindles, this would not be a problem, but things being what they are, a one-size-fits-all approach is necessary, and hopefully, this will do the job.

In many ways, I wish that Amazon would make me part of their Kindle design team or at least would allow me to work with them. After all, I’ve had over 35 years of experience as a software engineer in arenas that were a whole lot more complex than an eBook reader.

Many of you may remember my post 10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle from a year ago, and it is rather disheartening to see that virtually none of these issues have been addressed. In fact, if you look closely, not a single one of the issues has been addressed to date. While I have not seen a Kindle Paperwhite at this time, I doubt there will be many changes in the firmware that would address these issues. It seems to be more of a change in terms of the form factor and a hardware upgrade than a rework of the actual reader implementation – but I could be wrong, of course.

To me as a software engineer, author, publisher and professional eBook formatter, the omissions are truly painful to behold. amazon has done great things for books, by truly establishing eBooks as a reading medium, making it the new mainstream standard, all the while opening the doors for authors to publish their own work. All great achievements and I honestly doff my hat to Amazon for their incredible foresight and the vision they had during the past three years.

That, however, makes the technical shortsightedness all the more prevalent. All of the issues I raised before have been around since day one, and clearly someone within Amazon should have championed their correction. It did not happen. Not even when people like myself and others have called them out.

Amazon has never been a software or hardware developer before the Kindle and as such it was to be expected that there would be hiccups in the product and the delivery. No big deal. However, the market has reached such a maturity, that glitches like inconsistent text justification, the lack of transparency in PNG images and other omissions become glaring issues that should have been resolved two years ago.

The Kindle has to mature and it has to mature with foresight or we are gong down the road of mobile games, where you need 200 individual builds of an app. There are great developers out there who would have been happy to assist Amazon in their objective, but instead of embracing them, Amazon has often shunted them.

A command-line MOBIGEN program is just not the same as the luxury you get out of a program like Calibre. Amazon should have long looked into creating high quality content creation tools that help authors to increase the quality of their output. Too many self-published books are still created with an MS Word export or an InDesign plug-in that cause more problems than they solve.

Amazon should also have long started to put in place platform-specific delivery of eBooks, along with was for authors to properly set up books for each of these platforms.

Amazon should also have expanded their eBook format in ways that are truly practical without having to jump through hoops. The introduction of KF8 was a horrid debacle to say the least. Confusing authors and readers alike, the implementation is not what it should be – many things could have been implemented much more efficiently, making it easier for formatters to prepare the eBooks while also giving them a certain level of control over the appearance of their content. If you’ve ever tried to take a look at a black and white line-art image in the “Night” setting of your Kindle, you know what I mean, and the whole image sizing issue puts the dot on the i, I think.

I don’t want to harp on this unnecessarily excessively, but it also appears as if Amazon has long forgotten its pledge to bring KF8 support to the Kindle 3 generation of devices. As far as I can tell, that has never happened either, and yet, the train of model innovation moves on…

With all the new glitz and glamour that accompanies every new Kindle model, for publishers, each new generation brings with it a new set of challenges. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as I said, I wish Amazon would allow me to work with them to help them make these transitions as easy as possible, at least from a content creation standpoint. If anyone from Amazon is reading this, you know where to find me…

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