Nice Touches I Want To Steal: Josh Stallings & Tam Linsey

I read two ebooks recently I really enjoyed: Botanicaust, by Tam Linsey; and Beautiful, Naked & Dead, by Josh Stallings. Terrific stories, highly recommended, and both writers put some extra oomph into their ebook formatting with some nice touches. Which I’m going to steal (Hey, at my core, I am a fiction writer and that’s what we do–jackdaws and mental packrats every one).

First, Linsey’s novel:

After genetically altered weeds devastate Earth’s croplands, much of humanity turns to cannibalism to survive. Dr. Tula Macoby believes photosynthetic skin can save the human race, and her people single-mindedly embark on a mission to convert the cannibals roaming what’s left of Earth…

Linsey’s nice touch?

This is her chapter header. The plant theme, get it? Simple, elegant, and makes a nice use of how well the eink reader uses gray scale. Then she followed the theme with her scene break indicators:

This isn’t bells and whistles or flash and trash–and I appreciate that. I’m not a graphic designer, but I do have instincts. My instincts tell me that a simple motif, carried throughout and repeated, has an overall unifying effect. In this case, it also complements the theme of the book. Little touches like these make an ebook stand out from the pack, too. Nice job, Tam.

The other ebook is Josh Stallings, Beautiful, Naked & Dead, a crime thriller:

Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.



His nice touch?

I dig the grayscale chapter head, but check out that drop cap. In theory I know how to do drop caps. (I don’t know if it is possible to code them in.) The only way I know is to use a graphic. In practice, my results have been less than gorgeous (a lot less!). This simple elegant drop cap gives me something to aspire to. I don’t know if Stallings produced his own ebook (he credits Heist Publishing) but whoever did it did a nice job. I like the subliminal effect of “shadowy characters” which is just about every character in the novel.

Here is something else I like:

But Jaye, it’s just a table of contents. Why get excited? The layout, sure, but the placement is what makes it stand out. It’s at the back of the book. And yes, if you go to the menu, the ToC link is live, so it isn’t as if you have to page through the entire book to find it. In an ebook, back of the book placement makes such terrific good sense. Custom and tradition say ToC’s belong up front. But we’re at a point where we can make some new traditions and customs, and I think this is a good one. The sample feature at retail sites can make or break a sale. Some front matter is necessary and desirable, but too much can weary potential buyers who want to read some actual writing. Moving the ToC to the back makes one or two fewer extraneous pages in the sample.

(If your ToC has real information in it–descriptors, sub-titles, etc.–it can serve as its own draw in the sample readers see. In most fiction, with simple Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc., the ToC is little more than a navigational tool. Something to consider.)

In my estimation, little touches like these add value to ebooks. Not hard cost value, but in the way just-right accessories add to an outfit or a bit of detail work adds to cabinetry. Little touches. Big effects. Very nice. Can’t wait to steal them.



24 thoughts on “Nice Touches I Want To Steal: Josh Stallings & Tam Linsey

  1. Nice examples, Jaye. The slightly wide spacing between the first and second lines of the McGuire book suggests either a div tag or a couple of simple inline commands that make this one letter large and gray. If you make drop-caps this way, the larger element pushes the next line down a bit, but this method never goes wonky on you the way a graphic can from format to format.

    • Wonky describes my experiments exactly, so far, Bridget. I know how to make the font larger, but wasn’t aware I could make it gray and have that carry over through conversion. I suppose that’s changing the color of the character. Huh. You and I have got to get together and chat sometime.

      • We totally do. It’s that old devil CSS, to which I sold the scraps of my soul long since. There could still be a problem if the conversion program failed to interpret some of your CSS, but I’m reasonably sure this is how he produced the effect.

    • Hi, CJ. Fun, isn’t it? I still don’t know if it’s an advantage or a disadvantage coming into this from a very non-techie perspective. I’m really glad that the things I’m figuring out are a help to people.

  2. Thank you, can’t take the credit for anything but the words. Joshua Tallent of Ebook Architects did the ebook design. Love his work. I have been spending time with the Protectors anthology you did. It is amazing. Graceful and very functional.

    • Hi, Josh, sounds like Joshua is a keeper. He did a terrific job on your book. So did you, by the way. 😀 I really like Moses. I picked up the second book, OUT THERE BAD, and am looking forward to reading it.

  3. Hi Jaye:

    Just wondering if you have any tips or tricks or, better still, another cheat sheet in the works (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), that discusses various and sundry CSS tricks that do or don’t work on particular platforms.

    So far, things I’ve tried (that I have yet to see mentioned elsewhere) include:

    widows: 1;
    orphans: 1;

    These two settings typically would go in one’s main tag definition block; i.e., the one for html, body, p, and the like. And, from what I’ve seen, they do a pretty good job of mimicing the look and feel of a book printing that tries to fill up the page and eschews the whole “two line minimum” thing most word processors employ.

    font-variant: small-caps;

    Boy, do I wish this one worked. I know it doesn’t in Sigil and doesn’t in either the Nook-for-PC nor the Nook Tablet. It probably doesn’t work on any platforms. Yet.

    But, never being one to take “no” for an answer, I sought a workaround. What I came up with was rather ugly, though. It involved two classes:

    { text-transform: uppercase;

    { font-size: 80%;

    The first few words of the first sentence in a chapter or following an intended gap are wrapped with a “span” clause containing class=”uc”. Then, skipping past the first letter in the sentence, the rest of that same section is wrapped again with a “span” clause containing class=”sc”.

    Voila — simulated small-caps!

    Sigil liked this just fine, as did a Kindle I tried it on (said Kindle is not currently within my grasp, so I can’t check whether or not they actually support the font-variant clause). However, my Nook Tablet ignores the text-transform entirely, but it still shrinks the rest of the letters. Grrr.

    Do you know if either Amazon or Barnes and Noble has published lists of clauses that are supported? Or if there is something generic for the ePub format that does this?

    Looking forward to your next journal post. I always learn a TON!

  4. Hi. I haven’t seen anything like you describe regarding what works and what doesn’t from the main guys. I do know you need to be really careful about reducing font sizes, especially for Kindle. Amazon did an update for its older model Kindles (automatic thing) and apparently it has a bug. I don’t know if the bug is fixed yet or not. It can cause the font to shrink into teeny tiny because it grabs the smallest font and makes that the default. Lots of producers got caught (happened to me). Readers complained. The worst part is, even checking the book on Amazon’s previewers didn’t catch the bug. It only shows up on certain older model Kindles. I love that idea of small caps, though, and will have to give it a shot for epub versions.

    Truthfully, I don’t know if widows and orphans are something anyone can control. It has to do with the way the text flows to accommodate different sized screens and user preferences. Other than with graphics, there’s no way to force a static page.

    I think static pages are possible on tablets. I haven’t started playing with those formats yet. I’m interested enough to seriously consider buying a Kindle Fire just to see what I can do with it. Until then, all my focus is on dedicated readers.

    As for a cheat sheet with CSS? I get the best results when I keep it simple. I do a main paragraph style (indented for fiction, and block style for non-fiction), then for fiction I add a block style for the beginnings of chapters and sections, one for centering, and another for block quotes. I borrowed Guido Henkel’s set up for xml. It’s very easy and intuitive.

    Of course I had to tweak and fiddle with it. 🙂

    • Oh, wow, Jaye! So there IS a problem with some Kindle models and the font size. Botanicaust is one of those files which uploads in a teeny font on some Kindles. The typeface is also stuck permanently on Georgia on my Kindle Fire, and in a sans serif font on some other models.
      I addressed the issue with Amazon a few weeks ago, and they are still researching it. A few days ago, they had me send them my Kindle log from my Fire, which loads Botanicaust fine, so I’m not sure how that will help them with the size problem. But maybe they can solve the typeface bug.

      • The hell of it is, Tam, I’ve read blogs (and I am so sorry, i cannot find again the post where the writer demonstrated the problem) proving the bug doesn’t show up on Amazon’s previewer. Everything is A-okay according to the previewer, so the bug is in the Kindles themselves. Readers CAN increase the font size so the books aren’t unreadable. It’s a bummer that they have to.

    • Hi Jaye:

      Just read your reply. Yeah, I started with Guido’s setup, too, but have tweaked mine a bit.

      Regarding the “widows” and “orphans” options — after adding them, I do seem to get “fuller” pages, which is the goal I was trying to achieve. I don’t know if they could be set to 0 or not; I’ll play with that tomorrow.

      Thanks for the Kindle bug reminder. I don’t know if that applies for settings involving relative sizes (i.e., 1em), for absolute sizes (i.e., 10pt), or both.

      Also, gleaned a nice tip from reading your recommended “Pub-it! ePub Formatting Guide.” They recommend that margins be set in pixels, not a point- or em-based size. Took me a moment to catch on to their reasoning. If you leave the font size up to the reader to select, the choice of a large font size will also create a larger margin if that margin is expressed in ems. So, I will be going back and adjusting that.

      Now if I can figure out how to get a TOC to generate automagically and to get a cover image to be treated as a true cover, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something!

      • Interesting about the pixels, Jon, will have to check that out. Can you send some screen shots off your ereader to show me exactly what you mean? Now you are giving me something else to obsess about. (watch out, I’m going to talk into doing a guest blog post)

        The real problem here is that the formats are trying to be all things to all people, and anyone with sense knows where that always leads. I absolutely refuse to accept that generic looking ebooks are the only way to go. Smashwords is definitely leaning in that direction (annoying).

        I’ve heard rumors that you can use Calibre to generate a ToC. I’m going to check it out and will report back.

      • Hi Jaye:

        I know that Guido’s guide talks about using Calibre to generate a TOC, but I don’t have my printed copy handy (what? printed copy? of course — I only have one screen on my PC and I find it awkward to flip between active windows since I like to work with full-screen windows).

        I know that Sigil works nicely to create a TOC… IF one uses the “h1” tag (or, actually, any “h#” tag — Sigil will ask about which ones to include). But I’m following Guido’s recommendation of not using “h1” tags due to wonky implementation of the override values. Instead, I created a “h1” class and assign it to the “p” tag for my chapter headers.

        I’ll have to see what I can do about grabbing screen shots from various e-readers regarding the pixel-vs-em margin thing.

  5. Hi, Jon, I went over to check out Sigil this morning. Very interesting. It looks a lot like Scrivener on the demo screen. I will definitely have to check it out.

    This is kind of off topic (and nothing to do with you, Jon, but this whole ebook thing), but you know what? I am getting so sick of the multitude of programs. Each one does something a little bit better and a little bit worse than others. Each one has a different way to do things. My brain is only so big. I’m a total newb when it comes to programming and whenever I think I have something figured out, something else comes along that is completely different. I’m whining now, but I’ve just spent hours reading articles, how-tos and forums about ebook formatting and I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed, so whine I will.

    That’s out of my system. Whew.

    When you get some screen shots, contact me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com.

    • Jaye, I understand what you mean about different programs doing most of the same stuff but handling one little thing better than another program, and vice versa. Programmers are a lot like engineers — “They love to change things.” (Bonus points if you know the reference.) And, believe me, it’s worse for we programmers. Not only do we need to worry about learning new versions of our favorites languages, we have to deal with new versions of our chosen operating systems, and then we have to deal with all the NEW things that come out.

      There is something truly bizarre going on in my document now. Even though the text came from a very clean copy that was copied from Word, pasted into Notepad++, then copied anew and pasted into the text window in Sigil, I seem to have acquired a hidden, insidious bug. First, something has decided what constitutes a “page.” I don’t know what this is, where it is maintained, or how to adjust it. But, it has decided that my document consists of 410 “pages” (at least on the Nook Tablet and on the Nook-for-PC software).

      The page count is curious, but isn’t the real problem. The problem comes at “page” 55 — it has a false break in it that keeps my text from flowing correctly. Things pick up at “page” 56 and work just great thereafter… until “page” 111, where it again breaks and starts up again at “page” 112 (which, those mathematically-inclined may notice, is a multiple of 56). And again at “page” 167/168.

      Now, the entire document is contained in one HTML file. Should I break it up into multiple HTML files? This is a wacky new thing to me.

      (Also, after about “page” 140 or so, moving forward through the book showed a marked lack of speed during the page flips. But I digress.)

      Also, I tried using Guido’s suggestion about using Calibre to convert the HTML to an ePub. Something in this went horribly, terribly awry, and all of my curly quotes and curly double-quotes were rendered as strange little black diamonds with a white question mark contained in its middle. I was able to use Calibre, though, to generate a TOC, but not an internal one. I need to reread your section on doing that, though I believe you were using Word’s bookmark feature to assist. I’m deep into Sigil at the moment and wish like anything that they would get the new version released. But, I’m not above hand-coding the information. I’d just prefer to find an automated way to generate the TOC, both internal and external.

      I’m just blathering now. This whole thing should probably be best handled off-line via direct e-mails. I can’t imagine anyone other than myself caring about this twaddle I’m producing. 😉

      • I am 100% baffled by the page numbering thingie. Haven’t a clue. I know if I run a html file through Calibre then convert the zip file into a mobi file, it removes ALL my page breaks. Which is why I use Mobipocket to make files for Amazon. Calibre makes terrific EPUB files for me.

        I know what happened to your characters. If you’re using Guido’s xml you have to encode in UTF-8, and that means curly quotes are named entities. Go back to your Notepad++ html file and toggle the encoding to UTF-8. In theory all the special characters that should be named entities will turn into little black boxes with numbers in them. (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t). You can use find/replace to turn all the double quotes and single quotes (I toggle on ANSI when I do this just so I can tell what I’m doing). You’ll have to find any special characters–question marks and odd symbols in the ebook–and find the entity for them. I’ve gotten into the habit of using named entities for every character that doesn’t appear on my keyboard. Just to be on the safe side. I also use them for reserved characters like the > and straight quotes since those are used in html commands. I’m not sure how that helps in Sigil since I’ve never used it. (which is exactly what I was whining about before!)

    • Hi Jaye:

      Just got an e-mail from Barnes and Noble support — there *IS* a way to get a screenshot on a Nook Tablet (and probably the Nook Color, too — don’t know about the Nook e-Reader-only, though). Although I know you use Amazon’s Kindle, I just want to pass this along to your followers who, like me, use Barnes and Noble.

      Here it is — pressing and holding the “Home” button (the upside-down “u”) while also pressing the “Volume” buttons (that’s what BnN Support said; for me, it works if I just press the “Volume Down” button while holding the “Home” button) will get a screen capture. There is also a small chime sound that indicates the screen capture has occurrerd, along with notification on the bottom Status Bar.

      The images are found on the Nook’s main storage in the “Screenshots” folder (if accessing through a PC or Mac) or directly on the Nook by accessing “Library,” then “My Files,” then “Screenshots.”

      Now, all I need to do is set up some samples of the pixel-based margins versus the em-based ones, snap ’em, and send ’em to you. I may also include (on different posts) examples of the weird page-break situation I’ve got.


      So many tasks, so little time. 😉

      • Thank you! I’ll put this info up on a post this week (if I EVER finish scanning a stooopid manuscript with my stoooopid scanner—so very very slow).

  6. Jaye, I meant to ask, what do you use to get your screen shots? Everything I’ve got on my computer has a variable size for the window, so it doesn’t really simulate what appears on an actual device’s screen.

    • William Ockham turned me on to that little trick. I only know how to do it with a Kindle that has a keyboard. Simultaneously pres SHIFT (up arrow) Alt G. The screen will “flash.” Then open the Kindle on your computer and look in documents. You will see (if your fingers didn’t bungle the keys) a GIF file. That’s your screen shot. Not a clue how that would work on a Nook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s