Managing File Sizes for Ebooks

The majority of fiction writer/publishers will not run into overall file size problems. Text doesn’t create monster files. Using graphics or illustrations can add significantly to the overall file size, but I’ve yet to create an ebook that exceeds –or even comes close to–Amazon’s 50MB limit (which may be changing due to the introduction of the new Fire HD tablets). Even with illustrations and graphics, I do my best to keep the overall file size under 5MB because of Amazon’s delivery fees ($.15 per MB). Those fees are charged against the publisher and can eat up royalties quickly.

As I said, most fiction writer/publishers will not run into problems with overall file size.

Where fiction writer/publishers do run into problems are with the size of individual chapter files within the ebook. When you use <h1> or <h2> tags in html, or the Heading 1 or Heading 2 style in a word processor, you are alerting the conversion programs (such as Calibre or KindleGen) that this is a new chapter and should be split into a new file.* If you don’t use the headings or tags, the conversion programs look for certain words–Chapter, Part, Section, etc.–to determine where the file should be split. What is NOT reliable at all is using page breaks (in a word processor) or the “page-break-before” command in html/CSS. (I have absolutely no idea why those work sometimes, but sometimes they don’t–my best guess is the whims or moods of the Digital God.)

I always split html (text) files into chapters or parts, which manages the overall ebook very nicely. Even though this example is from a novel (Prophet of Paradise by J. Harris Anderson) that is almost 200,000 words long, notice the size of the individual chapters:

File Size

What happens if you don’t use tags or headings and your chapters have titles the conversion programs don’t recognize? What happens if you don’t have chapters at all and your ebook is deliberately one long tract? If it runs up against the 300KB file size limit (approximately 45,000 words), several things could happen:

  • Your file fails to convert
  • The conversion program inserts page breaks whether they are appropriate or not
  • The file converts, but some devices tell the user the ebook can’t be loaded

If your files are less than 300KB, but still largish (over 150KB) your readers could experience serious screen lag as they page through your story. This is an important consideration for genre fiction writers since the chances are your readers are Super-Readers and might have hundreds or even thousands of ebooks loaded on their devices. They will not be happy if your file sizes and their addiction cause several seconds of lag every time they “turn” the page.

What to do?

  • If you are using a word processor to style your ebooks, use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles for your chapters, parts and sections. (Do NOT depend on the conversion programs to recognize your inserted page breaks!)
  • If you are styling in html, use the <h1> and <h2> tags.
  • If your project does not have natural breaks such as chapters or parts (it’s long short story or novella) consider a minor restructure. Use the page count as your guide and try to find natural breaks around the 15,000 word mark–a scene break or time or pov shift or even an illustration that sits on its own “page”.

* If you are using Calibre to convert your ebooks, you can check the file splits in Calibre’s EPUB editor. You’ll see the list of individual text/html files and can open each one on the viewer/edit screen. If you are experiencing inappropriate page breaks, you can manage the fixes in the editor.

 

 

Word to Calibre to MOBI: Part 3: File Conversion

You went through Part 1 and styled your Word file properly. In Part 2 you learned how to turn it into a functional html file. Now it is time to convert your file.

A caveat before we begin. I use Calibre, but I don’t really use it. It has a pleasant display and it’s a good way to double-check EPUB files I create. I don’t use it to convert my files. What I am about to show you is the result of some serious screwing around with the program. It’s a hack and it may not be the very best one. What it does is work. So, if any of you are more familiar with how Calibre works and you have a better way, feel free to share.

STEP 1: Open your html file in Calibre. It will convert into a “zip” file.

CAL16STEP 2: Convert the ebook into an EPUB file. (Yes, EPUB, not MOBI. You will never again use Calibre to convert MOBI files for commercial purposes. It’s still just fine for personal use.)

CAL17STEP 3: Once your book is converted and you are back at the main page, right click on the book title and a drop down menu will appear. There will be an entry that says “Edit Book.” Click that.

CAL18STEP 4: Holy Moley time again. It’s an EPUB editor.

CAL19STEP 5: In the left hand sidebar, under “Text” delete the file that says “titlepage.xhtml”

STEP 6: Under “Styles” open the file that says “page_styles.css”. It will contain some code that says:

{
margin-bottom: 5pt;
margin-top: 5pt
}

Delete that and Copy/Paste in its place this bit of code:

{margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; vertical-align: baseline;}
body {text-align: justify; line-height: 120%;}

STEP 7: Under “Images” will be your cover image. Open it. Now resize it. (make sure the Keep Aspect Ratio box is checked) Change the width to 800px. (The cover height should increase proportionately.)

STEP 8: Under “Miscellaneous” will be a file called “content.opf.” Open it. Scroll down to the bottom and you will see two entries: <guide> and </guide>. If you built your html file the same way as in this tutorial and deleted your titlepage.xhtml, there will be nothing in the guide.

CAL20Using Copy/Paste, insert this code between the two entries

<reference href=”FILE NAME” type=”toc” title=”Table of Contents” />
<reference href=”FILE NAME” type=”text” title=”Beginning” />

STEP 9: Figure out which of the files under “Text” is your table of contents. Copy the file name and paste it in the reference line so it replaces FILE NAME. (use Ctrl C to copy and Ctrl V to paste)

Do the same thing for whichever file (your title page or Chapter One or your preference for the beginning of your ebook) in the “Beginning” reference line.

Mine looks like this:

CAL21STEP 10: Save and close the EPUB editor.

STEP 11: Open the Kindle Previewer. Click on “Open Book” and select the EPUB file you just modified. If you did this right, you will get this box:

CAL22Now you have a MOBI file that will upload successfully at Amazon–and it will work. No squishy lines, no messed up formatting, and the user’s navigation guides will work.

I’m sure there are plenty of things you can do to modify the file in the EPUB editor. (I didn’t, for instance, even touch on the toc.ncx) This is a pretty rough hack I’ve come up with, and it can probably stand some streamlining. There is plenty of room for fine tuning. What I hope you see is that Word can be used for styling, but its html leaves far too much room for error in ebooks. With a little knowledge of html, you can write in Word, but then you do your styling in the text editor. When you’re comfortable with html, you can make complete ebooks and not have to use Calibre at all. (And you’ll be ready for Paul Salvette’s guide to ebook development, it’s featured in the sidebar.)

Again, you probably have plenty of questions. So send them to me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com and I’ll put together a FAQ post to answer them.

Guest Post: Karen Myers–No Need For Calibre

When I ran the recent ebook formatting contest, I noticed some similar issues with many of the entries, all of them the result of Calibre conversion. I have no beef with Calibre, it’s a great online reading platform and I use it myself, but it’s a not-quite-right tool for converting Kindle books. One entrant, Karen Myers (Perkunus Press), contacted me about the problems in her ebook.

KMblog6The flaws weren’t fatal, but Karen was not satisfied with not-quite-right. So I pointed her at Sigil and Paul Salvette’s books, tutorials and website, and now I’ll let her tell you the results:

__________________________

Silly me. I’m an old programmer and I pride myself on trying to get my ebooks “just so”, as if I were writing a piece of code. I want to create worthy offerings to add to humanity’s river of books; at the very least, they should be shiny and well-scrubbed.

So when Jaye offered to judge the formatting of a few books from her blog fans, I hopped right on board, and she was very kind in her review.  But I read with horror things like “squishy line spacing” and links to chapters not working quite as they should, systematically.

I use an EPUB reader and hadn’t seen the book on a Kindle device other than the PC Previewer, so it was useful to see this from the Kindle reader’s perspective, since none of my buyers had complained (yet). Without a Kindle device, I hadn’t realized quite how irritating it was to not properly trigger the “Cover” and “TOC” hard buttons.

Now on the one hand, it wasn’t really broken, but on the other hand, I want perfection in book formatting, and some cosmetic and graphic flourishes. I’m not willing to settle for “good enough,” so Jaye was nice enough to coach me through some of the issues.

(Jaye here: I made a template for Karen based on Paul Salvette’s The Ebook Design and Development Guide)

If you’re content with auto-conversion from EPUB to MOBI or vice versa, or output direct to ebook formats from products like Scrivener, then this is overkill for you and you can stop reading now. But if you want as much control as possible over the results without killing yourself, you might find this approach useful.

Originally I formatted my ebooks in raw HTML using tips from a variety of online recommendations, like Guido Henkel’s. The first book was a real learning curve for me, but after that it wasn’t difficult to just do the same for later books.  Automated search/replace macros took care of things like wrapping lines with <p></p> tags, and so forth.

I took the HTML output, opened it in Calibre, added the cover and converted it to EPUB using Calibre defaults (more or less). I did the same with a separate conversion to MOBI, which required me to maintain a different HTML file because of the way Calibre generates the MOBI TOC. These outputs were what I was uploading to the distributors. The MOBI files produced this way were not ideal, possibly because of AZW vs MOBI choices (in other words, me as a Calibre user, not necessarily Calibre as a tool), and I was left with two files to maintain (EPUB and MOBI) and the Smashwords EPUB as a third file, since my approach wasn’t modular.  So every time I found a typo…

Jaye has taught me a better way… (Sigil)

KM blog1KMblog2I poured my HTML file for a book, broken up into chapters, into a Sigil template.  Each part of my book has a separate file: Beginning Blurb, Title Page, Copyright Page, Also-By-This-Author Page, Small TOC, Chap 1… Chap Last, Guide & Name Index, If-You-Liked-This-Book Page, Excerpt-From-Next-Book Page, Author Bio Page, Long TOC.

KMblog3I have 3 outputs: MOBI, EPUB, Smashwords EPUB. The difference between Mobi and the two EPUBs is that the “stylesheet.css” file is a little different between MOBI and EPUB, and the Cover page is treated differently (EPUBs require an extra step). The difference between my EPUB and my Smashwords EPUB version is that the Copyright Page has different content.

Now, thinking in the long term, I expect that the differences between MOBI output and EPUB output are likely to be persistent, and other devices may come along and generate different optimum stylesheet requirements. So I’m fine with having two different (but very similar) stylesheets which I maintain externally and copy in as needed into the stylesheet.css shell.

Likewise, the fact that Smashwords requires its own ISBN means only that I maintain two different external Copyright Page HTML documents and copy the contents of whichever one I want into the shell in Sigil.

Both of these make use of a simple modular structure.

So, what happens when I finish a new book and want to format it?

PREP

  1. I copy the Sigil file (MOBI version) from the previous book and rename it.
  2. I create Copyright.HTML files for both the normal and Smashwords copyright pages by copying the ones for the last book, renaming them, and updating the content.
  3. I create a new Title page (it’s a graphic) and a new Cover.

KMblog4MAIN CONTENT (MOBI)

  1. I work on the MOBI version first (it’s the master). I copy the text in, chapter by chapter, the front blurb, and the back excerpt.  I run saved searches to wrap the lines with <p></p> tags and to convert special characters to named entities.
  2. I update the Also By and If You Like This book pages by hand.
  3. I run a saved search to update the Title field on all the HTML pages to the new work, and update the equivalent fields in the TOC.NCX and CONTENT.OPF files.
  4. If the book is a little longer or shorter (number of chapters) than the last one, I update the TOC.NCX and CONTENT.OPF files and the HTMLTOC file.
  5. I update the metadata in the TOC.NCX and CONTENT.OPF files. This allows me to do some things that either Calibre doesn’t, or I don’t know how to find, such as set a UUID (Unique User ID) for my short stories that don’t have ISBNs, embed book descriptions, add keywords, etc.  There’s a great tool for this that Jaye told me about:

bb ebooks meta-pad generator (courtesy of Paul Salvette, BB Ebooks Thailand)

KMblog5Run the file through Kindle Previewer (which runs Kindlegen) and check the results.

How much time does this take?  I just updated my entire backlist (3 novels, 5 short stories, 1 story collection) to Sigil–it takes me about an hour for a novel, and 20 minutes for a short story.  Making the short story collection from the already-formatted short story files was truly trivial.

EPUB VARIANT

  1. Substitute the content of the EPUB stylesheet into the stylesheet.css.
  2. Run the Sigil tool to insert the cover.  (Kindlegen does that a different way for MOBI).
  3. For the Smashwords variant, substitute the contents of the Smashwords copyright.html for the default one.

That’s it.  I import the files into Calibre for one last look to make sure they seem healthy, and do a quick scroll through on my EPUB reader. If I find typos, I fix them in the MOBI version (and the Scrivener original) and redo steps (10)-(12).

Why not use Calibre?  I am confused by the various options and clearly, for MOBI conversion, I wasn’t doing it quite right. Also, my original HTML file was one big file with a stylesheet and all chapters together, making modular changes clumsy. Calibre created its own version of the styles it found, and they weren’t always what I expected. It’s a big black box to me, and there were some issues with the results, which may be my fault, not Calibre’s.

Why not use Scrivener?  Like Calibre, you are at the mercy of whatever Scrivener decides to do to instantiate the different conversions. Since the Scrivener text isn’t in HTML, there are all the issues of named entity conversions to deal with, and you have little control over the default styles. The results may be clean, but you can’t do anything special, such as use graphic chapter heads, scene dividers, and so forth, at least not in the Windows version.  Perhaps there’s a way…

Other tools, like Scrivener, will take your word processor input and generate EPUB and MOBI output, but the black box in between what you write and what they produce leaves you at the mercy of the limitations of others, and so your output will remain at best functional vanilla. That’s not a bad thing, but we can do better.

It’s really not that hard to go through the learning curve once.  After that, each new book becomes quite easy.  Your book designers or people like Jaye can help you get started by setting up the first one and explaining how it works.

_____________________________

Jaye again. Thank you, Karen. Now I’d like to add a word about Sigil.

Sigil creates EPUB files. Kindle ebooks are MOBI files converted from EPUB files. So, you can take an EPUB file created in Sigil and convert it with KindleGen into a MOBI file that will work on Kindles.

There’s a gotcha–One size does NOT fit all. EPUB and MOBI handle styling differently. They handle covers differently. If you know what the differences are, you can use Sigil to create ebooks that work exactly how they are supposed to, on EPUB and Mobi. You can control how the devices handle your work, as opposed to being at the mercy of whatever the conversion program decides is best.

I have a special offer for readers of this blog. If you are really serious about creating ebooks that work properly across devices, and you are ready to climb the next step on the learning curve, go buy Paul Salvette’s The Ebook Design and Development Guide. It might freak you out the way it freaked me out when I first read it (I have zero programming experience). If it does, but you’re still motivated, send me an email (jayewmanus at gmail dot com) with a screenshot of your receipt for Paul’s book and I’ll set you up with a template similar to the one I made for Karen.

 

 

Ebook Formatting Services

What Makes a Great Ebook?

#1 Great writing, great story

#2 An ebook that works properly on the reader’s device

#3 An ebook that looks beautiful and is a pleasure to read

BlogServices2When I’m reading a book, that’s my priority list. If #1 isn’t there, #2 and #3 don’t matter. If, however, it is a wonderful story, but the ebook is broken or carelessly formatted, the writer will end up on my “When I get to the library…” list.

Production values matter. It’s why I work as hard as I do.

It’s why I have this blog. I know there are people who’ve improved the quality of their ebooks by using the tips, tricks and resources I write about. I applaud these do-it-yourselfers and have made it my mission to help out in any way I can.

Some readers come looking for professional help. I’ve updated my services page here. All my ebooks are custom, so prices can vary, but you can get an idea about how much your project will cost based on the size of your book.

BlogServices1I’d also like to mention a very special service I can do for you. If you have a clean source file, you’ve won 90% of the battle toward creating an ebook that works and looks good. I can clean your Word file for you. Strip out the ugly code and extra spaces, tidy up the special formatting (bolding and italics), and bring your punctuation up to snuff. The file will be ready to format. All you have to do is style it.

So check out my new page. If you need me, give a shout.

Calibre and Kindle, Not a Good Match

UPDATE 010314: I wrote this article before I did any real research into Calibre. Considering the vast number of hits this blog post is generating, I knew there was a call for information about how to convert a Word file to MOBI in Calibre. I found a fix and I wrote a series of posts about it. Part 1 (Styling in Word), Part 2 (the HTML file) and Part 3 (Conversion in Calibre). It’s not a quick fix (or magical), but it’s not difficult either.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Calibre. It’s quick, it’s handy, and it has an attractive screen display that I far prefer over Adobe Digital Editions or the Kindle Previewer. Since I don’t have a device capable of reading EPUB files, it’s also useful for checking the formatting on files I create for others.

What it’s not good for? Converting EPUB files into MOBI files for commercial purposes.

Having seen some horrendously broken ebooks that had been converted through Calibre, I have long suspected that Calibre was the wrong tool for the job. I assumed it was user error, a problem with the source file and/or the html, and if the formatter did a really good job with the initial file, Calibre wouldn’t muck it up.

I was wrong. The problem is with Calibre.

Squish3I converted an EPUB file to a MOBI file with Calibre. I then took the exact same file and converted it with KindleGen via the Kindle Previewer. The above screenshots are the results. Same page, same settings, same device (Kindle Paperwhite).

Squished lines.

In the recent ebook formatting contest, I saw squishy line spacing in every single ebook that had been converted via Calibre.

So maybe the problem lies in the subtle differences between the html coding for EPUB and MOBI. I ran a file I had made specifically for Kindle through Calibre. Squishy lines. I took that Calibre-generated file and ran it through KindleGen. Squishy lines.

Could Amazon be taking care of the problem? I downloaded samples from the contest entries. Squishy lines.

Why does Calibre do this? I have no idea. It just does.

Why is it a problem? Because for many readers, myself included, Kindles (and other ereaders) make reading comfortable again. My eyes are old, plus I spend all day in front of a computer. My eyes are tired. With the Kindle I can change the font, adjust the font size and change the line spacing for optimal comfort. Squishy line spacing is hard on my eyes. When I try to read an ebook that I can’t adjust for my comfort, I get irked. When I’m irked, that author/publisher ends up on my Don’t Bother list. (Your future sales, folks)

There are alternatives to Calibre. If you are converting a Word or html file, use MobiPocket Creator. If you have a simply formatted file, it will generate a prc file you can upload to Amazon and it will work. If you have an EPUB or html file, you can use the Kindle Previewer (converts with KindleGen). A warning about the Kindle Previewer–what you see is not always what you get. Trust but verify and test your files on an actual device if you can.

An Alternative to Smashwords? Draft2Digital

I am not overly thrilled with Smashwords right now. After the big announcement about EPUB, the reality has been less than… well, let us just say, I am not impressed. One, the formatting requirements are the exact same ones they use with Word files–that means generic looking books–and there is STILL NO WAY to test or even preview the converted books before they are published. As much as I get frustrated with the Kindle Previewer, it’s still a valuable tool and its error reports make sense. (Smashwords’ error reports tend to make sense only in alternate universes). When I heard about Draft2Digital, I was quite interested.

While I’ve heard from some people who’ve had good results with D2D, I haven’t tried it myself.

Paul Salvette at BB ebooks has done the legwork for us. He and his crew of wonder-formatters took part in some beta testing and have written up a useful report. Here’s an excerpt:

First Impressions with Draft2Digital

Uploading your manuscript to the newly established website, Draft2Digital seems like a perfect solution for DIY eBook conversion. Thanks to Joanna’s tutorial how to use Calibre on TeleRead, automatic conversion has gained momentum in the business when indie authors are striving to publish as cost-effectively as possible. Although we have already discussed automatic conversion before (it’s not very good quality), many of our clients have urged us to try out the closed beta test on D2D. Fortunately, an email from Draft2Digital sent yesterday notified us of the open beta of which anybody can test the service without getting the beta code. We wasted no time this morning to get our hands on their hotly anticipated conversion service. Our initial doubt prevails: how much can you trust the fast quality of artificial intelligence, especially when it comes to formulating the immortality of your eBook?

(Big Plus)

Hooray, It’s Pay Day!

According to the latest email, customized payment methods have been very convenient for international authors who can receive payment directly into their bank accounts or via PayPal. Look under ‘Payment’ in the Draft2Digital FAQ, authors can sign a big relief to be paid by check, PayPal, or Direct Deposit. Please note for non-’Merican authors you will need to get an ITIN so that the IRS can tax you.

Paul and his crew went through the process with… results. BB ebooks is a pro outfit, and Paul is one of the best in the biz when it comes to producing ebooks. His standards are very high. He did find some problems.

Problems Ensue with Automatic Conversion to EPUB

We tried to one of Paul’s other books that was well formatted in Word, including with a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Unfortunately, it looks as though the formatting is completely blown out when their automated conversion is used. All paragraph styles are first-line indent—which is okay for body content, but not for front matter and back matter. Additionally all first paragraphs in Chapters are first-line indent, which screams Amateur Hour. Below is how it looked:

Pop over to the site and read the entire article. Lots of illustrations and good explanations for what is happening.

My takeaway from this and from what I’ve heard and from what little bopping around I’ve done on the D2D site is that they have a lot of potential. Their terms are good, their payout schedule is excellent, and they are responsive to customer complaints and concerns.

So go read BB ebook’s article, then check out D2D. It might be suitable for you.

Thank You For Your Queries

I want to thank everybody who’s emailed me lately asking how much I charge to produce an ebook. (I apologize to those who ended up in the spam box–I don’t know why gmail is doing that, but I am now checking my spam box regularly)

demon screenshotI appreciate your compliments about my ebooks. I’m very proud of them and it thrills me no end to be noticed for something I am so passionate about. It also thrills me to know that so many of you are finding this blog useful and you’re using what I’m learning to lift your ebooks out of the “ugly cousin” ghetto and into the “hot chick everybody wants” high rise. Ebooks can be beautiful and we’re proving it, aren’t we?

With that said, I posted a page listing my prices.

Because I’m a reader first and foremost and I treasure the written word–no matter what form it takes–every one of my ebooks is a custom job. No templates, no assembly lines, no same ol’ same ol’. I enjoy challenges. (This does make me a little nutty at times, but the best thing about being self-employed is that even when the worker-bee is off her nut, the boss has to suck it up–ha!)

When I take an ebook into production, it’s from start to finish. I’m the Queen of Clean, so I’ll scour your manuscript file, stripping out all the little nasties that make ebooks hiccup and making sure your punctuation is consistent and up to standard. Your ebook will be a custom job, laid out the way you want it, as fancy or plain as you desire. You’ll get a validated EPUB file (suitable for uploading to Barnes&Noble and Kobo or selling direct off your own site), a MOBI file (for Amazon) and a clean doc file you can use to format a Smashwords file or an ARC or whatever else you might need it for. I can also format the Smashwords file for you, but it will be plain since currently the major concern with Smashwords is getting it through the Meatgrinder in one piece–the fancy bits just make trouble. You have the option of doing the proofreading yourself or hiring me to do it.

So, again thank you for your queries. If you need me, I’ll be right over there, figuring out new ways to make ebooks even better.

Oh My God, I’m a Nerd!

Long time readers of this blog have watched my progression from building ebooks in Word to the present day as I’m handcoding html. You’ve heard me whine about the quality of ebooks and the difficulty of producing a book that renders perfectly on every device, every time. I’ve used different programs, different methods–and for the longest time I utterly resisted learning html because 1) I knew nothing about it; and 2) I resented the idea that one had to be some kind of mad genius-computer nerd in order to make a decent ebook.

Well. I was wrong. It doesn’t matter that I knew nothing about html. If one is motivated, one can learn. Plus, one doesn’t need to be a mad genius (or even a slightly bent genius) in order to learn basic coding–which is really all one needs in order to make a beautiful ebook.

One does have to be, however, a bit of a nerd. I realized this the other day when I announced to the old man, “Ha! Regex isn’t so hard and toggling the extended command means I can wrap paragraphs and find extra spaces as easily in the editor as I can in Word. Bwahahaha!”

Do you understand what I just said? Don’t worry. The old man didn’t either. A month ago I wouldn’t have understood it. Suffice to say, I’m learning a whole new language and it is finally making sense to me even though that means my family now looks at me the same way the dog does when I’m talking to him (he’s waiting for me to say the magic words–”walkies” or “cookies”).

But, I haven’t done all this alone. Every time one of you guys, blog readers, makes a comment about a new way of doing something or talks about a new program, I have to check it out. And I learn things. When I’m working, I have a screen open to the W3Schools website so I can quickly get questions answered. I’m always bopping around the ‘net, seeing how others have solved problems and seeing if they’ve learned something new. I don’t always (okay fine, most of the time) understand what others are talking about. The real experts have been doing computer programming for decades and they speak “html” with casual fluency while I’m over here speaking very loudly and very slowly and adding vowels to the ends of every word in an effort to make myself understood (I said-o no comprehendo, capiche-o, amigo?).

Needless to say, when I do find a reference source that a) tells me what I need to know; b) shows me what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it; and c) is written in a way that I can actually understand, I glom onto it.

All that build-up and confession leads to sharing a new treasure: The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette. Paul follows this blog and comments occasionally. He also has an ebook formatting service. He gave me a head’s up about the book. There were two major factors in my decision to buy it. First it was written in comprehensive English (most of these types of guides offend my writerly sensibilities) and second (this is really important!) it’s nicely formatted (it’s astonishing how many how-to-format-your-ebook guides are so wretchedly formatted as to be unreadable).

This is not a beginner’s guide. Two months ago I wouldn’t have understood much beyond “and” and “the.” With my usual la-di-dah methods of clicking madly until something works, I learned enough of the basics of html on my own to create some very nice ebooks. Armed with those basics, I’m able to understand quite a bit of what Paul is talking about. It helps that he truly cares about how ebooks look and that they work properly on ereading devices, no matter what those devices might be. It also helps that the book is readable, with an engaging style, and only occasionally lapsing into nerd-speak that leaves me smiling, nodding and waiting for him to say “walkies” and “cookies.”

I read it in one sitting, bookmarking countless passages and taking notes with my analogue word processor. I figured out some areas where I am working way too hard to accomplish simple tasks, and making some mistakes which I had to work even harder to overcome and compensate for. Of course I had to run to the computer and try some new things.  I formatted two ebooks using his guidelines and had so much fun, I reformatted another book that happened to be more complicated just to see if I could. I could. I did! I understand a bit more about how ebooks work and some of the differences between the different platforms and why versions of html coding work better on some platforms than with others.

The book is easy to navigate (a most useful table of contents written in plain English) and it includes templates for xhtml address thingies and resets and style sheets. Handy-dandy and easy to use.

Paul, being a generous fellow, generously (foolishly) opened himself up to answering whatever stupid questions I might throw his way. He might be sorry about the offer, but I won’t be. One book doesn’t make me an expert and it sure doesn’t catch me up on twenty years of experience, but it does go a long way toward helping me reach my goal of producing beautiful ebooks.

Highly recommended for nerds-in-training.