Fun with Formatting: Playing with Fonts and Images

First, I’m not a fan of embedding fonts in ebooks. It’s simple to do, but it’s a minefield. Not every device will support embedded fonts, some fonts have very restrictive conditions of use, others can cost big bucks for a license, and some are not complete (as in, you can get the regular font, but not italics or many of the special characters such as em dashes or acute or grave marks). Making everything behave, and doing so in legal compliance, is far more hassle than it’s worth. My opinion. And for those of you using Word to format your Kindle files, do not let Word lull you into thinking all is well because your formatted Word file looks good with your fancy fonts. It can turn into a royal mess–and let’s not get into how much bloat the file will contain!–and you can even break the ebook so the user cannot change fonts or margins. Your file will convert just fine if you stick to Times New Roman or Garamond. The conversion programs recognize those.

That said, it’s okay to mix things up a bit by taking advantage of the capabilities already built in to the ereading devices. (I’m going to focus on Kindles because I own Kindles, but most of this applies also to EPUB devices.)  Kindles offer a menu of font families in the user preferences. The Fire tablet offers four serif fonts (Caecilia, Georgia, Palatino, and Baskerville) and a sans serif font (Helvetica). Paperwhites have six fonts (serif, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, Baskerville, and Palatino; and sans serif, Futura and Helvetica). Even the older models offer readers a choice between serif and sans serif. You can mix them up.

White6In css styling, it’s easy as can be. Insert this line in your style declaration:

font-family: “Helvetica: , “Futura” , “sans serif” ;

What happens is this, the device will use Helvetica, if it has it, or Futura, if it has it, but if not, it will use whatever sans serif font it has available. This is a nice touch for chapter titles and, as in the example above, a sign, or a headline, or to set off such things as text messages or computer readouts. You can customize the look further by using all caps, small caps, increasing or decreasing the font size, bold and italics. Best of all, it will not bloat the file, cause legal problems or interfere with the user controls.

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Let’s move on to images–a subject that reduces many formatters to gibbering cuss-buckets. I’ll leave such things as sizing, text wrapping, fixing images, etc. for another day. Let’s talk about the dreaded WHITE BOX. You know what I mean. You have a nice little glyph or scene break separator that adds a touch of oomph to your ebook and it looks beautiful on the Kindle screen.

White2White1

And then a user decides to read with a sepia background or in Night mode. And even though your image has a transparent background, this happens.

WHITE BOX.

I know of some users who prefer to use Night mode on their tablets. I, myself, will use Sepia when I’m reading long form at night when my eyes are tired. I barely notice the white boxes anymore, and I’m sure users of Night mode are pretty much the same way. It’s a quirk to get used to. As a formatter it drives me nuts. Especially since I own an ebook that has defeated the White Box problem, so I knew it could be done. I finally figured it out.

White4White5Kindles will render three types of image files: jpeg, gif and png. Each has their strengths and each has their weaknesses: namely image crispness and file size. The trick to defeating the white box is the gif image. In Paint.net, the program I use for making simple graphics, when I save a gif image there is an option to adjust the transparency. I set it at 255. What that does is, everything with a resolution less than “normal”, i.e. 255, is transparent. (I should be able to do this with png images, but I haven’t been able to. So, dear readers, if any of you have figured it out, let us know.)

You do need to be careful with gif images. If they are too big they will get a distorted, fuzzy look. Not every color renders well. You should use a simple palette. Don’t use percentages so they adjust to the screen size–that can go bad quickly. Instead declare the width. Solid black images can disappear in Night mode, but if you give your image a narrow stroke of 1-3 pixels in white or pale yellow, that will take care of that.

So there you go, two more ways to improve the look of your ebooks and make them stand out.


Examples are from:

BAD TIMES 3: AVENGING ANGELS, by Chuck Dixon
BOURBONS & BLONDES, by Anthony Venutolo

More Fun With Formatting: Why Not Illustrated Fiction?

One of my pleasures when reading is learning something new or unusual (I collect odd factoids the way trash hoarders collect empty soda cups). I truly appreciate writers who extensively research. Some of my finest obsessions (Vikings, forensic science, birds, etc.) spring directly from fiction. Even when my obsessions aren’t triggered, temporary fascination with people, places and things often send me haring off on Google expeditions to learn more about what the writer is talking about.

I’ve often wondered why more writers/publishers don’t indulge such reader impulses with their ebooks?

I had a project recently that did just that. Eye Sleuth, by Hazel Dawkins, and Eye Witness by Hazel Dawkins and Dennis Berry, are mystery novels that feature a sleuth with an unusual occupation–behavioral optometrist–set in visually interesting locations–New York city, coastal England.

The writers wanted a gallery with images of those visually interesting places along with images relating to the sleuth’s occupation. There are also illustrations for the chapter heads. A challenging project, but a lot of fun, too.

SOME TIPS

Manage your image sizes. I have found that using percentages to declare image sizes is a good way to make sure images aren’t cropped on small screens and don’t sprawl on large screens.

images1

One of the sad facts of ereaders is that because of the way they are set up, it’s damned difficult (and impossible for the likes of me) to wrap text and to make sure text stays with an image. Depending on the device, images can be “orphaned” on a screen, which isn’t a good look. Two ways to make sure such occurrences don’t interfere with the text are to (one) give each image its own page; (two) create a gallery with links from the text.

internal linkInternal links in ebooks are easy. I have found that using a div id for the bookmarks reduces the chances of blown formatting. One thing I highly recommend when doing a gallery of images is to insert a link from the image back to the text. Even though ereaders allow a reader to Go Back, sometimes a reader will decide to browse a bit, then suddenly they’ve lost their place. (okay, maybe not all readers, but this reader does) Eliminate that annoyance with a link.

color image1Also, because of how I read–Now where was that cool picture of the whatsit?–I included all the images in the table of contents. It takes some extra time and effort on my part, but it makes navigation and referencing easier for the readers, so that makes it all worth it.

tocIt’s also important to check the quality of images. Black and white photos, crisp and sharp, look fabulous on all ereaders. Color images need to be checked lest what looks okay in color turns to a gray blur on an eink screen.

bw imagesAnother big consideration is overall file size. Amazon charges .15 cents per MB as a delivery fee. You don’t want to eat up your royalty with those fees. Lowering the resolution on images to around 77 to 96 pixels per inch reduces file size a lot without affecting the display too much. Keep track of image sizes and be prepared to trim if necessary.

Illustrating fiction isn’t difficult, but it does require some planning and organization. Put yourself in the reader’s place and consider how the book will be read and how to best use the device features to enhance the experience.

Dopey but Fun: Signing An Ebook

I reformatted an ebook this week using some of the new techniques I’ve learned. On impulse, just because I can, I signed the letter to the readers.

Screenshot from Lucy Light the Paperwhite.

(Taking screenshots off the Kindle Paperwhite is very easy–thank you, William–simultaneously tap the upper right hand corner and the lower left hand corner on the screen, the screen will flash and the image is saved in the root directory. Open the Kindle on your computer and retrieve the screenshot. This is even easier than with Larry the Kindle Keyboard, which is easy, too.  Simultaneously depress the shift+alt+G keys–clumsy fingers are the tricky part. The screen should flash. I still haven’t found an easy way to take screenshots off the Kindle Fire. Every instruction I’ve found so far should begin with “First, obtain a master’s degree in computer science and then…”)

There is no real good reason for adding a signature except that some urges cannot be resisted. If you are so inclined, though, this is what I did. I used a Sharpie on white art paper to create a substantial image. I wrote big. I scanned that into the computer and used Paint.net to trim and size the image and turn it into a jpeg graphic. Then I treated it like any other image and inserted it into the file. Easy-peasy.

On a more practical side, I suppose it would be easy to make special “signed editions” of ebooks. Even ebooks with personal inscriptions. If one had one’s own online store, one could offer all kinds of special goodies. Hmn, something to think about.