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
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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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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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My book highlights of 2010

As we head into Christmas and the New Year at a rapid pace, I thought I’d let you guys know about some of the book highlights I’ve encountered this year. Since I’ve been writing and publishing my own books I found that I am reading books with much more awareness,enjoying their writing, style and structure much more than before. At the same time, it also makes you take notice of weaknesses much more — but that’s not for today.

I have just completed Scott Nicholson’s “The Red Church” and it has instantly turned me into one of his fans. Very similar in style to Stephen King’s writing, this book is pretty amazing on many levels, the premier of which, to me, is the fact that Scott Nicholson is actually the better Stephen King. I have lost interest in King almost 20 years ago for one simple reason. His endless rambling and the fact that every one of his books was bloated to some 1,000 pages when the story could have easily been told in half of that. Contrary to its title, “Insomnia” was a sleeping pill, and books like “The Stand” and others were really boring me to death. So I stopped reading Stephen King altogether and turned towards other writers at the time.

Scott Nicholson picks up where I wanted King to be. A colorful storyteller who tells a story with marvelous eloquence and characters that are as deep as they are engrossing and conflicted, Nicholson is definitely on par with King in the narrative sense. However, where Nicholson pulls ahead and easily exceeds King is in the fact that he stays on top and does not stray into the ocean of boredom. He drives his plot forward constantly, making background information relevant and interesting at the same time. I already have plans to read his book “As I Die Lying” some time soon.

Another remarkable find I made this year was Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series, starting with “His Majesty’s Dragon.” I stumbled across her series by accident when I browsed the bookshelf at Barnes & Noble while waiting for my friend Shaun Jeffrey to finish a conversation during his book signing for “The Kult.” I immediately fell on love with the book, its flowing prose, the charming characters and their interrelationships, as well as the Napoleonic war era in general. I literally flew through the book and got hooked on series and I have already started on the second installment, “Throne of Jade.”

“The Kult,” by the way is also a cool, though extremely gritty, read. Not for the feeble, I should say, as the violence in the book can be quite disturbing. Think David Fincher’s “Se7en” combined with the “Saw” movies.

Vicki Tyley was this year’s greatest find, perhaps, as I have read four of her novels this year alone. She is a first-class crime thriller writer from Australia who is undoubtedly on the brink of breaking into the big time very soon. Her stories are riveting and filled with endless unexpected twists. I got my predictions wrong in every one of her books all the time, and that should tell you something. To give her books a try, check out “Thin Blood” or “Brittle Shadows,” for a slightly darker read. Unfortunately, her best book to date, “Bitter Nothings” has not yet been published, though I did enjoy the pleasure of reading an advance copy she gave me.

I also re-read Barbara Hambly’s gothic vampire story “Those Who Hunt the Night” this year. I had read the book some 20 years ago and remembered enjoying it quite a bit. Because it wasn’t available for the Kindle I bought a used copy and dove right in. While a bit wordy at times, the book has an incredible flair, a rich atmosphere and believable characters. It is really a classic that you should check out some time.

Then there was David Liss’ intriguing tale about mischievous plotting in the East India Company in his book “The Devil’s Company.” The story gripped me right away as it set itself up as a cool mystery that ended up filled with plots. The real strength of the book was the main character, however, who was struggling to free himself of the evil stranglehold of different parties, each of which put increasing pressure on him and the life of those around him. The book was again a surprise find that I discovered while browsing the shelves at Borders and the cover somehow sprang out at me as a period book. In the end it turned out to be a gem and one great piece of historical fiction.

There were, of course, a good number of other books that caught my imagination and kept me well entertained and it would be hard to include them all here. But the ones mentioned above are all fabulous reads and if you still need a stocking stuffer for Christmas, there is still time to grab them…

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


The Road to Right

After having spent a lot of time in my last installment, telling you how you should not create an eBook, I will no longer hold you back with explanations of Wrong and instead we will point our heads forward and look down the road of Right. Let’s start with a quick overview over the process I am proposing just so you get a general idea for 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 every tasked can be performed by virtually anyone familiar with a computer. Remember, the key lies, as so often, in getting the right tools or the job and putting them to work for you.

The majority of ebook formats 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 information display 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, basic HTML pages will always be able to display properly in all these environments.

Since we don’t know what device or software the reader will use when they want to display our eBooks, it only makes sense to utilize a format that is tweaked 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.

Among recording musicians we have a saying that is very suitable for our cause: Garbage in, garbage out! It means that when the source you are recording is garbage, your end result will inevitably be garbage also. There is just no way to make a bad source signal good. The synthesized vocals of current-generation pop stars are living proof of that.

Since we know that our end result is going to be an HTML file, the best way to avoid garbage along the way is to choose a source format that is as close to the output format as possible. So, if the output is HTML, why not make the source format HTML also? HTML is a very simple markup language that is so basic and, more importantly, widely document today that anyone can pick up the basics in under 30 minutes. In fact, many of you may already be familiar with the general basics of mark-up languages from styling their message board posts or maybe even creating their own web pages and blog posts.

To put it very bluntly. If we create an HTML file as the source for our eBooks, the end result will be every bit as reliable as the HTML file we initially created. Makes sense, doesn’t it? And that is really all there is to it. That is the secret to creating professionally-looking eBooks. You take the contents of your book and prepare them as a first rate HTML file and run it through a packaging software to prepare the final eBook for you. Yes, it really is THAT simple!

I would be remiss, however, to leave things at that. I promised to show you exactly how to do it, and I will. To make sure you are not getting stressed out at this point, let me repeat our key mantra once again.

The right tools are critical for an easy workflow.

Get the right tools for the job and you’ll be pitching a home run in no time. You will be a much happier human being and you will have much more time on your hands to enjoy other things in life. With that in mind, let me run you through some of the basic tools we will peruse in the next installments; tools that will help us achieve the perfect eBook formatting we so desire.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a Mac-head. I have long ago decided that my time is too precious to waste on computers and operating systems that don’t work properly and turn into utter time sinks. As a result, I am an Apple Mac user, plain and simple. As I said. Get the right tool for the job.

While I highly recommend you should use a Mac also – you will see you productivity go through the roof for one thing, I promise – this does not mean that you really need one. Everything we do on the following pages can be done on a Windows computer also, so do not worry.

At this point, let us assume that you have completed the manuscript for your book and have it entirely committed to a single word processor document. Needless to say, you will need a basic word processor to open, read and massage the file, but once again, I assume that as a writer, you do have that.

What you will also need, ideally, is a software called a Programming Editor. I use personally TextMate (http://macromates.com), but there are numerous other editors available on the internet also, which will serve the purpose just fine, some of them as paid software, others for free. JEdit (http://www.jedit.org), for example is a free programming editor that is available for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms and will definitely do you nicely.

In addition we will be using Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com) for our final creation of the most common eBook formats. Calibre is a free software package that works under Windows and on the Mac.

In the next installment we will take a closer look at some of the features of HTML that we will need to whip our eBooks into shape and how they impact how we will create our 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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Apple has just released a new version (v1.2) of iBooks for the iPad and the iPhone. Usually this is not something I would care much about, but Apple has added one feature in particular that stands out in my mind – hyphenation.

As an author I have constantly been surprised that none of the eBook readers in the market seems to support proper hyphenation, not even the HTML-implemented soft hyphenation.

By adding this feature, finally, Apple is putting the pressure on Amazon and other eBook readers, and deservedly so, taking the text display on those devices – the thing they are actually optimized for one would think – out of the middle ages.

Hyphenation in text is an important typographic feature, not only for justified text blocks, but also for regular left justified reading. There is a reason why hyphenation has been made an integral part of our language’s punctuation language rules. It can actually increase readability while also serving aesthetic purposes.

I could understand that Amazon and other eBook manufacturers might not have wanted to include full hyphenation in their devices because the dictionaries necessary to do so might have bloated the firmware, while the actual look-up might have slowed down the page display.

Therefore I checked at some point to see if they would at least support soft hyphenation,as it is implemented in the HTML standard. Few people know that HTML actually contains an entity character called &shy; which makes a hyphenation suggestion for the renderer.

If you write a word like ten&shy;den&shy;cy in your HTML code, a fully implemented HTML-renderer uses these &shy; characters to correctly hyphenate the word. It means these characters are invisible, unless a word wrap is in order, at which time the renderer will treat the &shy; characters as guidelines to display something like tenden- cy, for example.

It is an HTML feature that is incredibly helpful but barely used. The Kindle, sadly failed my soft hyphenation tests, and my understanding is that until today so have all other eBook readers.

By including hyphenation – and with it, I expect soft-hyphenation – Apple has once again proven that they are just a bit ahead of everyone else. While this is, of course, a feature that should have been included in all eBook readers from day one, at least we can now expect the implementation of the feature to trickle down other systems as time goes on.

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Most people know me as a fan of Apple products, a real Mac-head, so to speak. The reason for that is that traditionally I can find very little flaw in the products the company offers, their approach to the user experience and the general approach to the marketplace.

That does not mean the company is beyond reproach, of course, and whenever I see flaws I will gladly point them out. And such is with the recent update of the iPad firmware, in which Apple has abandoned the orientation toggle switch. Its functionality has been instead replaced with audio mute.

I am not sure why anyone would have ever thought a mute button would be more essential in a tablet than a lock for the orientation. To me it makes no sense and why Steve Jobs would so vehemently state that the lock button will never return is beyond me.

As a writer I use Pages for the iPad a lot. I use it to edit and revise my books and even to actually write parts of my stories on occasion. The iPad’s mobility allows me to work anywhere I want to. It also means I am getting interrupted a lot and have to put the tablet down. Unfortunately this means that the tablet may change the orientation because of the movement, which wouldn’t be so bad, but it also reset the zoom factor once I rotate it back to my portrait writing position. Usually this means that my text is too small and I will have to pinch it up over and over again, which really getting tedious after the tenth time.

The orientation lock toggle solved this problem, for me. It would lock the orientation and with it my magnification setting in place.

The same is essentially true when surfing the web. So for me that toggle was a real asset.

Now as for replacing it with an audio mute instead… Off the top of my head I can’t even think of any real application for that. The iPad is not a phone that needs to be silenced quickly in various environments. So what do you need a mute switch for? Gaming, perhaps? What is there that pressing the volume down key a few times couldn’t do? I’m not sure if any mobile game is so demanding on the player that turning the volume down would destroy the experience, particularly as it something you would most likely do once when you start playing.

So, what would anyone need the audio mute for, really? Neither videos nor web browsing warrant or require a mute button, so I am truly flabbergasted at how Apple cold have come to the consensus that the orientation lock meeds to go. It is one of the few cases were usability has been sacrificed by the company that practically defines usability in the market – in the world. At the very least one would have expected to find a toggle in the system settings that let users allow what they want their toggle to do for them, but no such,luck.

You can still lock the orientation on the iPad, but it requires a bit of fiddling. First press the “Home” button twice and a menu bar will appear at the bottom of the screen. Now swipe the bar to the right and a new menu appears. In the left hand corner you will now find a soft toggle which allows you to lock and unlock the screen orientation. Why this has to be so well hidden and tedious to use, I really don’t know, when an option setting in the system preferences could have pleased everyone.

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