Scotland Yard, well, hello…

ScotlandYard2For most of us, the name of Scotland Yard is synonymous with detective stories. Whether it is Sherlock Holmes, the books of Agatha Christie or Edgar Wallace, or even the exploits of Jack the Ripper, the involvement of Scotland Yard roots these stories, often elevating the institution to mythical heights. Its involvement lends credence to the powers of traditional law enforcement.

The Yard has long been part of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries in a variety of ways, not in the least through the fact that Inspector Lestrade calls upon Jason Dark and Siu Lin on occasion. Since the cases of the ghost hunters involve killings and deaths, it is only natural that the two occult detectives have a lot of contact with Scotland Yard.

At one point I began to wonder what would happen if the powers of the Yard would were to realize Jason Dark’s skills and acknowledge his legitimacy. An idea evolved in my mind that, perhaps, they would offer him a job. More to the point, perhaps, would they even open a department for the special kinds of cases he is regularly involved in?

ScotlandYardDivisionMapTraditionally, Scotland Yard worked in Divisions. Greater London was divided into a number of sections that had a degree of autonomy under the Scotland Yard umbrella. In history, H Division became the most notorious one, no doubt. It covered London’s East End, and among it the Whitechapel district, the part of town with the largest crime rate and, of course, the killing grounds of the infamous Jack the Ripper. Other letters of the alphabet were assigned to other parts of the city. Interestingly, what many people do not know is that the City of London itself, which makes up only the very heart of what we typically consider London as a whole to be, had its very own police force and was not part of Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction.

While this divisionalization had its benefits, particularly as the city continued to grow, it also had its limitations, of course. To counter the shortcomings that arose from the many disjointed divisions, another department was founded, commonly known as CID, the Criminal Investigation Department. Without the jurisdictional limitations of separate divisions, CID operated independently and quickly took charge of cases surrounding murders and rapes. It is this division, in fact, that we usually associate with the name Scotland Yard. It consisted of detectives in plainclothes, often working undercover in disguise as they investigated the most notorious and brutal of cases in the Greater London area.

ScotlandYard1With all that in mind, I began to imagine the possibilities. What if Scotland Yard would indeed open a department dedicated to supernatural incidents? I foreshadowed the idea in a previous Jason Dark mystery also, “Curse of Kali,” and in the latest adventure, “Hunted,” I took that leap all the way and made it official. In the story you will find a scene in which Dark and Siu Lin are approached with the concept, as proposed by the Home Secretary and the Queen herself.

Like many of the historic references and character cameos I have constantly built into the series over its course, this once again added a nice touch to the story, I felt, expanding the horizon of Jason Dark’s world and the possibilities for me to play with the characters and settings. He would no longer be a civilian, scrutinized suspiciously by policemen on the beat. He would no longer be the prime suspect as people fall dead along his path, and he would suddenly have an entire police force at his disposal to help him solve cases. Not that I would want him to be regular copper, of course. Far from it. He is just not the type, but as you may agree, it would open up certain new thematic possibilities, not to mention the drama that would undoubtedly unfold if he were suddenly accountable to Queen Victoria herself. What is his relationship with the Queen, anyway?

Check out “Hunted” to find out how Jason Dark reacts to the Yard’s offer, though. It may be good for a few chuckles along the way as he improvises in critical moments. Naturally, the story as a whole is probably more interesting than that small tidbit alone, but it is like a proper spice. It adds dimension without getting in the way.

Hunted_Flat-192x300Therefore I would like to invite you to check out “Hunted” and get a taste of Jason Dark dealing with an exotic hopping vampire from China in an action-packed mystery that takes every last ounce of resourcefulness out of Dark and Siu Lin. The book has just been released and is now available for a limited time only for $0.99.

I hope you’ll have a blast with the story, and I’d love to hear what you thought of it, so don’t be shy to write to me.

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The return of Jason Dark

TerrorLord_Preview-192x300Today is a big day for me! It is a make-or-break kind of day, to be exact, because today I am giving Jason Dark a second lease on life.

When I first started my Jason Dark series of supernatural mysteries six years ago I had no idea where the adventure would take me. Ebooks were a technological aspiration that had not yet fully emerged, let away broken into the mainstream, and I simply wanted to spread my wings into true fiction writing, after having spent decades writing for computer games.

Consequently I wrote seven adventures featuring the inimitable ghost hunter Jason Dark and his sidekicks Siu Lin and Herbert, along with a serialized short story that was published in Fangoria magazine. Those who read the stories enjoyed them. some loved them—or so they said, and yet, the series never took off and I was forced to abandon it after finishing and publishing “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” more than three years ago. It was a hard decision for me to walk away from the series. I had fallen in love with the characters and the setting of the series in Victorian England. Writing these stories was a dream come true on so many levels, but I simply could not afford spending any more time writing, publishing and promoting books that did not sell enough to make a living.

And so, the books languished for a long time, until earlier this year, I felt the urge to give it another try. The market had changed so much in those years. Ebooks are now fully established in the market, self-publishing was the only viable way for authors to get their work out, having practically replaced traditional publishing industry altogether, which had imploded by its own hand, helping its own demise along with an abandon of intelligence I have never seen before in any industry. But I digress…

It all started when I re-read “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” the last book in my series. I have the habit of taking notes constantly when I read—regardless of whose book it is—and I found that I had a lot of notes on this particular book. Notes where I felt the wording was weak, where more information would have been à propos, where the flow wasn’t as well-rounded as it could have been, and so on. It was then that I decided to give the book a good do-over and perhaps try to bring to full novel length. And so I got to work—and when I was done the book was 45k words long and deserved a new title—Hunted.

Theater_of_Vampire__Flat-192x300With that done, and the knowledge that new title would require a completely new launch of the book, it was almost a foregone conclusion to relaunch the entire series along with it. So I talked to Lieu Pham who has been creating hundreds of covers for clients and her Covertopia.com website. Together we went through every book in the series and she created a stunning new cover for each one.

At this time I also decided to make the first book in the series, “Demon’s Night” permanently free as a hook, to get readers to try out the series and hopefully continue from there. Although each of the Jason Dark adventures is a stand-along book that does not require any knowledge of the previous books, I understand that mean reader simply want to get into a series with the first book.

DemaonsNight_NewFont_Flat-192x300For me, the problem was that “Demon’s Night” was the first book I ever wrote—six years ago—so I wasn’t sure if the book would live up to expectations. While one could argue that a free book is a free book, my intention is to use it to introduce new readers to the series, and to hook them, and if that book is weak, clearly, the plan will not work.

I daresay that I have grown as a writer since and when I began re-reading the book to check on the quality of the writing, I very quickly realized that it, too, would require a bit of extra work, so I made some changes. Not to the same extent as I did with “Hunted” but I did clean out some sections and added more information, while also looking for grammar and, most importantly, wording issues.

The last step was reformatting all eleven eBooks in the series to update their look, making it more contemporary and more what you’d expect from current eBook technology. You may recall that I discussed the subject in a previous post called “The new look of Jason Dark.”

Doctor_Flat-192x300Which brings us to today’s launch. The new website is live, all the books have been updated in online stores, making sure readers can now grab fully updated copies with their beautiful new layout. And, of course, the crème de la crème, “Hunted” is now available for everyone to read!

The book is currently available at a $0.99 introductory price to help give the book a strong start. The first weeks of a book are the most critical because they determine how online stores like Amazon will treat the book, whether it is something worthy of recommending to their millions of readers or whether its fate will be more along the lines of “also ran.”

Help me bring “Hunted” to the forefront of readers’ minds, would you? It’s a 99 cent investment, less than a cup of coffee or a candy bar, and it will keep you entertained—I promise. Better yet, it will lure you back to the fog-shrouded streets of Victorian London and throw you in the middle of an action-packed mystery.

Heavens_on_Fire_Flat-192x300New York Time-bestselling writer Joe Nassise even compared my character Jason Dark to the likes of Carl Kolchak—don’t be afraid to show your age—and Fox Mulder. I felt incredibly humbled when I read his endorsement. I mean, we are talking about Mulder here… THE Fox Mulder!

So, if you’ve gotten curious, do yourself a favor. Buy the book—once again, it is only 99 cents currently, an investment I am certain you can afford—and help my Jason Dark series back on its feet. There are so many cool stories in the series, and so many more in my head that I have yet to write.

So, let’s get this show on the road. Let’s put Jason Dark and Siu Lin on the map for all fans of supernatural mysteries to find, and your purchase of the book will go a long way towards that goal.

Enough with the procrastinating, already… click on one of these links and get your copy of “Hunted” right now! If you don’t like the book, throw it in my face, and I’ll give you your money back. How’s that for a deal?

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The new look of Jason Dark

Many of you have probably heard by now that for the past months I’ve been busy at work to reinvigorate and relaunch my Jason Dark series of books. All the hard work is about to pay off, I hope, as I am nearing the launch date of September 14 for “Hunted,” the latest book in the series, and with it the relaunch of the series as a whole. Just to get you started off, here is a look at the cover for “Hunted,” which shows off nicely the new style that all new covers in the series sport.

Hunted_Flat

As part of the process to breathe some new, fresh air into the Jason Dark books, I reworked the first book “Demon’s Night” once again, ironing out some things I wasn’t too happy with upon re-reading the story a while ago. More importantly, however, all the books in the series have been completely reformatted from scratch, using some of the more advanced formatting features that eBook readers of the current generation can handle.

Here’s a look at the new look of the eBook versions for you.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.44.16 PM

Compared to the simplistic look of the original stories, you can see, that the new layout is much friendlier on the eye with plenty of white space.

A beautiful splatter of ink appears at the beginning of each new chapter, adding style to the layout. The splatter was actually the idea of Lieu Pham from Covertopia.com, who also redesigned all the covers for the series, and you would not believe what a difference it made once I dropped it into the page. Small things, such as this can often make a huge difference and her experienced design eye instantly realized the potential.

The new layout also features custom fonts to create a brand-look for the books. The chapter title itself is using the same font that is found on the book covers, creating visual continuity throughout the book and with it, the entire series.

In addition, I opted for the use of a large initial and first-line small caps for the beginning of each chapter. For that I also used a custom font to create an intricate, yet delicate look that is open and breathes. Naturally, the use of custom fonts and features such as this is not without issues, as those of you familiar with formatting limitations of eBooks will know. Not all devices support custom fonts, the small-caps feature or the way I set up the initials. It was important to me, however, to push the series forward, even if it meant using formatting features, even if it meant that older devices may not be able to display the pages exactly the same way. In a worst-case scenario, older devices will abandon the custom fonts in favor of the device default font, it will ignore the small-caps command, leaving the first line of the chapter formatted the same way as the rest of the text, and it may ignore the set-up of my initial, rendering it as a regular character, the same size as the rest of the text. While it may not have the glamor of the “advanced” layout of modern devices, I made sure that it won’t result in a garbled display and still look perfectly fine.

The Jason Dark website has been completely revamped as well, and you can see it in all its glory here – www.jasondarkseries.com. Check out all the new covers for each of the books. Fans familiar with the series will also notice that I have changed the title of the adventure “Dr. Prometheus” to “The Doctor,” a title that I think works much better.

With only a few days left before the official launch, the next few days will be filled with a flurry of activities, all to raise awareness of the series and the upcoming new book.

You want to help me make this launch an all-out success story? It’s really easy. Just share with your friends the news of the upcoming release and the overhaul of the entire series. Point them towards the website, let them know that “Hunted” will be available on September 14 with a limited time price of only $0.99, remind them how important reviews are, or simply show them the cool new look of the books, over on the official website.

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Teaching TextMate a new trick

I recently had to switch to TextMate 2 because I had upgraded to OSX 10.10 Yosemite, and my trusty old version of TextMate was no longer fully operational. Some of the bundles I am routinely using when formatting eBooks crashed Ruby, making them useless.

One of the features I constantly use is the “Wrap Each Selected Line in Open/Close Tag” command from the HTML Bundle. It is one of the most important commands I use when formatting eBooks, because it allows me to automatically wrap every paragraph in a text in <p> and its corresponding </p> tags.

After the update to TextMate 2 I found, however, that the functionality was no longer what I really expected. Instead of wrapping everything in <p> tags, I found my text wrapped in <li> tags instead, which was not very useful. Actually, it was not useful at all. It was detrimental.

I’ve done a little bit of TextMate Bundle coding myself in the past to create streamlined commands that help me format eBooks much faster. They have become essential part of my everyday tool chain. Seeing the unexpected behavior of the TextMate 2 bundle I decided to simply dive into the Bundle Editor and change the default behavior of the “Wrap Each Selected Line in Open/Close Tag” command to my needs.

If you want to do the same, here’s how you’d go about it. Simply open the Bundle Editor by selecting “Edit Bundles” from the “Bundle” menu in TextMate. Next, select the HTML entry in the list that appears on the left hand side of the window. You will now see a number of entries appear in the second column of the window. We want to drill into the one called “Menu Actions” and then the one called “Wrap Each Selected Line in Open/Close Tag”.

droppedImage

In the lower window that contains the code portion of the command, you will find the following lines

#!/bin/bash
[[ -f "${TM_SUPPORT_PATH}/lib/bash_init.sh" ]] && . "${TM_SUPPORT_PATH}/lib/bash_init.sh"
perl -pe 's/[\$`\\]/\\$&/g; s/([ \t]*)(.+)/$1<\${1:li}>$2<\/\${1\/\\s.*\/\/}>/'

As you can see, in the jumble of the regular expression there is a reference to the unwanted “li” tag. All we have to do is change that entry to “p” instead and make the line look like this

#!/bin/bash
[[ -f "${TM_SUPPORT_PATH}/lib/bash_init.sh" ]] && . "${TM_SUPPORT_PATH}/lib/bash_init.sh"
perl -pe 's/[\$`\\]/\\$&/g; s/([ \t]*)(.+)/$1<\${1:p}>$2<\/\${1\/\\s.*\/\/}>/'

Once you’ve done that, hit Ctrl-S to save the change, and you’re done. Whenever you now press the Shift-Control-Command-W keys or select “Wrap Each Selected Line in Open/Close Tag” from the Bundle menu, every paragraph of your text will be neatly wrapped with the correct <p> tags.

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Win a cover from Covertopia.com!

Feeling lucky? You should, because I can feel that today is your lucky day. All you have to do is enter in Covertopia’s Give-away, and keep your fingers crossed. You may just win a cool cover for your next book! Heck, I’ll even throw in the formatting for your book.

As you may know, Covertopia.com is a new service provider that I am closely affiliated with. Primarily, the website offers pre-designed covers for authors at an affordable price with an almost instant turn-around time. With a catalog of almost 200 instantly available premade covers at this point, from many genres, you can win any one of these covers for your own book.

CoverTopia_Logo

Participating is easy and you will be helping us spread the word to the community, to make sure more and more authors hear about Covertopia.com. It will enable us to make even more covers, make even cooler covers, create a wider variety of covers, and you can be instrumental in the process.

The way it works is really simple. Go to Covertopia’s give-away page and share info about this give-away on your social network, tweet about it, Facebook about it, or post your favorite cover on Pinterest, and earn points for the give-away. The more points you have, the better your chance of winning—it is that easy! You can even earn points by signing up to my newsletter, liking the Covertopia Facebook page, following on Twitter and more.

Just head on over there and take a look for yourself for the full details, and please, help us letting other writers out there know that the perfect cover for their book might already be waiting for them at Covertopia.com.

Thank you so much for your support! If you want to, you can also submit your entries right here! Keep in mind you can come back every day during the duration of the give-away to collect more entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Over the past weeks I’ve been reading a number of non-fiction eBooks—don’t ask me, why, it just happened for some reason. The interesting thing is that I noticed a number of recurring eBook formatting problems that permeated virtually each one of these books, and I thought I’d touch upon the subject for a change.

The problem in question revolves around terms that should be treated as a unit. Take a look at the screenshot and see if you can figure out what’s wrong with it.

bent1

The problem her is, of course, the way the term “30 days” has been line wrapped—twice actually, and the term 1,667 words has been wrapped also. Plenty of bad formatting going on here!

When you have something like this term, a professional typesetter will always make sure that the individual words in the term will not be word-wrapped… ever. There is nothing worse than having the number “30” on one line and the word “days” on the next, or worse yet, on the next page. It just doesn’t look professional and instantly gives off a whiff of amateur that you do not want in your book.

Certain terms need to stick together like Laurel and Hardy

In novels this is oftentimes not such an acute problem, because most authors would actually write “thirty days” instead, which can be wrapped perfectly fine, but by their very nature, non-fiction books often wrangle a lot of data and as such it is no surprise that I found the error striking in the past weeks in particular.

Naturally, the same applies to terms,such as “3 months,” “4 years,” “5 minutes,” “10 dollars” and so forth. Other occasions where you may find terms that should never be wrapped is in dates, for example, such as “November 5,” “Day 3,” “3 AM” or even in situations like a “1964 Mustang” or a “1953 Corvette.”

The most prevalent occurrence of such terms, in both fiction and non-fiction is on cases, such as “Mr. Potter,” “Mrs. Bates,” or “Dr. Jekyll,” and one could even go as far as applying the rule to terms such as “Agent Mulder.”

The solution to the problem is fairly simple, really. If you are formatting your eBook in HTML, you simply replace the space between the words of the term with a non-breaking space character, like this: 30&nbsp;days. This way, you disallow the eBook software to break apart the entity.

The solution: Prevent word-wrapping with non-breakable space characters

To achieve this one can use a very simple Regular Expression to isolate the cases. The concept is to search for one of multiple digits, followed by a space character, followed by a letter.

A simple search expressions like this

([0-9]) ([a-zA-Z])

will locate such instances. I do not recommend simply running a replacement on this search, however, because there would be too many false positives. Instead, simply go through them one by one and decide whether they need to be adjusted or not. I know, this is time-consuming, but that’s part of the reason why professional ebook formatting costs a bit of money.

bent2

As you know, I do not recommend exporting eBooks straight from word processors, but I do understand that many authors do so nonetheless. It is possible to avoid this kind of word-wrapping in word processors as well, by replacing the space character with a Ctrl-space character. And voilà…

If you can actually make this practice to use Ctrl-space in all the right places part of your general writing habit, all the better, you will be properly prepared right off the bat, and you will make the life of your eBook formatter a whole lot easier.

The thing about this kind of eBook formatting error is that it is not something that readers would report to you, but it is wrong nonetheless. It gives authors the impression that nothing is wrong with the eBooks, when, in fact, there are formatting errors in it. Many such issues can be evidenced in eBooks, pitfalls that most people are not aware of but that hinder the reading flow and somehow give off a bad impression.

That’s why it make sense to hire professionals to handle your eBook formatting. Someone with credentials, someone who understands actual typesetting, in order to make sure these kinds of things don’t happen.

Will you take a look at your books and see if you’ve been a victim of this particular pitfall?


ZenCover
Zen of eBook Formatting is currently on sale for only $2.99 instead of its original $5.99 price!

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.

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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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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