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.

Fun With Graphics: Make Your Images Fit The Screen

For those of you who are whizzes at computer stuff and html and css, do not laugh at my puny efforts. Go look at this video of great social significance instead. I’m talking to the folks like me–who believe our computers are plotting against us when we’re not looking.

You all know that ereaders can play havoc with your graphic images, right? Depending on the device, they can shrink or expand or get cut off in inconvenient ways. The way to make sure your images stay the size you want them to is define the size in the coding. So a line of html for a scene break glyph might look like this:

graphic8

I needed to insert a graphic that ideally should fill the screen, no matter what size screen was displaying it. I knew how to do this thanks to Paul Salvette (and if you are really serious about formatting ebooks, you must get his book for your resource library) and my partner-in-obsessanating Jon Westcot. Change the size to a percentage–in this case I needed the width to always be 100% of the screen.

graphic7Do that and the image will expand or shrink depending on the screen size. Never have to worry about it being cut off.

That’s when it hit me I could do something cool with chapter heads and scene break indicators.

I had a project with a noir-ish theme and I made graphics with a grayscale fade. The problem with locking the image sizes, though, was that on some screens the fade effect was lost and the graphic looked like a block–too graphic-y. That’s when it hit me that I could use percentage coding to make the graphic fill the screen width no matter what size the screen–even a full-sized computer screen.

graphic5How it looks on the Kindle Previewer for the iPhone app–a very small screen.

graphic6How it looks on the iPad screen–very wide display.

I also did the same with the scene break indicators. For this series I wanted a simple grayscale fade line instead of a glyph, but I wanted to always fill the entire line. Setting the width at 100% did exactly that. Here’s how it looks on Lucy Light the Paperwhite.

graphic2If you happen to have an image you want to fill an entire screen, top to bottom, you use the same trick, except you set the height at 100%. That way you can manage the size of your graphics, but still make sure your book illustration or chart gets its own screen “page.”

Nifty trick, eh? Thanks, Paul and Jon.

Boast Post: This Time It’s All About Me

What’s that old saying about the shoemaker’s kids? They go barefoot? Something like that. Yeah, it’s been something like that for me. A few months ago my former publisher reverted rights back to me for six of my books. I’ve been so busy doing projects for others, my personal projects kept being pushed onto the back burner.

To make it extra fun, all these books were written prior to 1995. I was able to recover two off disks. One I had as a relatively clean manuscript (as an experiment I ran the pages through my home scanner–take it from me, unless you have buns of steel to tolerate the hours you’ll spend in your chair, this is not the most fun method of file recovery). The others had to be scanned from the actual books. After all that scanning, they still have to be run through an OCR program and cleaned up.

I started with the easiest projects (ha ha), the two files I had on disk. They were final drafts, and required editing. With much help from Julia Barrett and Marina Bridges we managed to eliminate most of my writing quirks, beef up some weak plot points, and even trimmed it quite a bit. I hired the talented Jayne Smith to design the covers.

It’s a risk not putting people on the covers of romance novels, but I love the look and I’m willing to risk it. I also made sure to put “romantic suspense” on the cover so I could include it in the title to nudge the search engines a bit.

Need I say, I had fun with formatting.

Small caps!

I recently read a Ben Aaronovitch novel, Whispers Underground. Kudos to publisher, Del Rey, for releasing a very good ebook edition. They care and this reader appreciates it. At the beginnings of chapters they used small caps. It’s a small touch, but it looks classy.

That’s a screen shot from my Kindle keyboard. Notice the first line. There are many, many ways to start a chapter with a touch to offset the text. The simplest is to not indent the paragraph. Then there are drop caps, bolding, italicizing, or graphics to give it an “illuminated” look. I happen to like small caps.

The Kindle doesn’t actually support small caps. If you’re using html and use the font-variant, nothing happens. What I did was create a span class with small-caps as the variant, but then set the font-size at 80% (I’ll change that for EPUB, which I believe does support small-caps). I left the first letter on the line at normal size and reduced the size of the next few words which I had capitalized. I used a span class as opposed to a paragraph style in the hopes that I wouldn’t trigger the Amazon bug that shrinks the font in older Kindles. I had a friend test the book on his older Kindle, and no teeny tiny font. Yay, team!

The code for this particular sample looked like this:

What that did was make a paragraph with no ident, left the first letter normal sized and reduced the size of the next three words.

I also did something that opened a discussion with a friend. I placed the tables of contents in the backs of the books. He thinks they should go in the front of the book. I think that’s true in non-fiction where readers peruse the toc for information about what the book contains. In fiction it’s merely a navigation guide since in most cases it’s just a list of Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. Also, if a novel has a large number of chapters then the potential buyer who downloads a sample could end up with pages of toc and very little story to sample.

So what do you all think? Table of contents in the front or in the back?

If you want to check out my latest formatting masterpiece the books are up on Amazon right now. (I’ll be uploading them to other places soon, but first I have some other jobs to do–you know, shoes…)

The Mirror Images series, Dark Reflections and Light Embraced are available on Amazon.

Boast Post: A New Way To Make Ebooks

A new way for me anyway. Not long ago I got my hands on Paul Salvette’s book, The eBook Design and Development Guide (link in the sidebar). I talked it up because it explained in plain English (mostly) the hows and whys of building a better ebook. Even though it intimidated me, I knew I had to try his method.

Well…

(Pardon my not using screenshots. I haven’t figured out how to capture screenshots off the Kindle Fire yet. The instructions I’ve seen require a little more… Anyhow.)

As per my usual knuckleheadtude, I picked for my maiden voyage a three-book omnibus. Go bold or go home, right? By the time I figured out I should have chosen an easier project, it was too late and I had no choice except to keep going forward.

This method is NOT for beginners. You need at least some experience with html and text editors. If, however, you are like me, knowing just enough to be dangerous and curious about how ebooks and ereading devices work, going through the steps to build an ebook this way will teach you plenty. I now have a much better understanding about what happens to files when they go through conversion and why some things work better than others and why some things fail.

The biggest difference between what I was doing before and what I did with this book is that before I was formatting the ebook and producing files that could be read on ereaders, but they were not complete ebooks. To make them complete they had to be run through a conversion program. What was missing on my end was a navigation guide and a toc.ncx. Ebooks, I’ve learned, have two tables of contents. The one the formatter creates while formatting and the toc.ncx which is the internal table of contents which is generated during conversion. Conversion also produces a navigation guide which is what makes, for instance, jumping from chapter to chapter possible. Why are there two tables of contents? I do not know. All I know is, I didn’t know how to make them before and I left it up to the conversion programs to do it for me. With this new (to me) method, I built my own navigation guide and toc.ncx. Now, if someone asks me to format a book that they intend to sell on their own site rather than through a distributor, I know how to do it.

What I appreciate most about Paul’s guide (other than being written in language I could understand or figure out–which often takes staring at the screen until, like magic-dot pictures, the answer slowly appears) is that he takes the time to explain what is happening and how things can go right or wrong depending upon which device the book will be read on. That’s valuable information, especially for a non-programmer. I spend a lot of time over on the w3schools.com site seeking answers to my problems, but what’s over there is geared for programmers and people who have skills and experiences that are foreign territory for me. Which means I do a lot of, “hmn, let’s try this and see what happens,” and sometimes I get the desired results and sometimes I don’t. When I can’t get the results I want, it’s a bear figuring out why. I also learned I’ve been making some parts of my formatting tasks overly complicated and much too hard.

As a bonus, on his website, BB eBooks, Paul has an area for developers with templates and guides. It’s a terrific resource.

If you’re like me, you know how to format an ebook, know some html, are comfortable working in a text editor and now you’re ready to kick it up a notch, the guide will take you through the process step-by-step. I recommend you read the entire book first so you get the overall picture of what it is you’re about to attempt. I took a lot of notes and used my whiteboard to help me keep track of such things as bookmarking navigation points and naming files. Since this method involves splitting up the main file into many smaller files, you will need to find a solid, simple way to name the files and keep track of them.

One area where I had serious trouble was in making the zip file. I could not get the recommended program to synch with my computer. That’s not the guide’s fault (I need to get my son over here to figure out why my computer disallows changing directories). So I cheated and copied my files into a .zip folder then changed the .zip designation to .epub. I don’t know if you’re supposed to do that, but it worked. I’m not comfortable with it because my computer sends me nasty grams when I do, but it did work.

Because I was building a book for the Kindle, I had to disregard some of the advice about line spacing. In the most recent update that Amazon did for Kindle devices, they changed the default font and apparently the line spacing and paragraph spacing defaults, too. I’ve noticed in some of the recent stories I’ve downloaded the text appears double-spaced and changing the line spacing on my Kindle takes it down, at the most, to a space and a half between lines. Plus, where before some extra leading between paragraphs made them look better, now the extra leading puts a noticeable gap between paragraphs. I don’t think that is happening on Nooks or other EPUB readers. It didn’t appear to be a problem on Calibre. So pay attention to line spacing when you’re building a book for the Kindle. Things have changed.

I also refrained from reducing the font size anywhere in the book because I don’t know if Amazon fixed the bug that squishes the font in older Kindles. Until I’m sure of that, no font reductions for Kindle.

Some of the touches I did for this book included moving the copyright page and table of contents to the back of the book so potential buyers can get a larger sample. Plus, because it’s a three-book omnibus, I placed a header at the beginning of each chapter with the title of individual book. Just to keep readers reminded of which book they are reading.

I love the way the book turned out. Despite being intimidated by the process, I learned some skills, gained a whole lot of understanding and ended up with a very nice looking ebook that is easy for readers to navigate. (I also learned some new cuss words, but I won’t go into that…)

Thank you, Paul.

If you want to check out my latest masterpiece, and some pretty good stories, too, it’s available now on Amazon.