Fun With Formatting: Making Ebooks Pretty

SS2I’ve loved romance novels ever since I was a kid and devouring my grandmother’s subscription Harlequin’s. Now that I’m producing ebooks, I love them even more. Doesn’t lush, lyrical prose just cry out for lush, pretty treatments?

Here’s the thing. Ever since I got my Kindle Fire tablet, I’ve been enthralled by the possibilities. It displays color beautifully. It’s fast! Sometimes large graphics can lag in eink readers, but I’ve yet to run into that problem with the Fire. So when Katherine O’Neal, historical romance writer, asked me to help her bring out books as ebooks, I found a kindred spirit. She loves beautiful books, too.

SS3Some of the ebooks use black and white graphics, but they’re still pretty. With others we went full bore and over the top. Why not? As a reader, a visually interesting book is a pleasure to read. As a formatter, well, it’s fun.

SS8I use a free program called Paint.net for the graphics. It’s powerful and there’s a lot to learn, but with the help of Plunder Bunny (and a lot of time fooling around, er, practicing, I’m learning enough to produce some very slick graphics. Through trial and error I’ve learned some useful tricks and have some tips for you.

SS1Test your color graphics. Paint.net allows me to turn an image to black and white, which gives me a good idea of how it will look on an eink reader. For the book with the Taj Mahal image we found a gorgeous red graphic, but unfortunately in b/w it turned into a dark gray blob. So we found the orange and yellow graphic that works beautifully.

Watch the sizes. Because graphical elements can quickly increase a file size into the unmanageable range, I keep careful track of image sizes. I can safely degrade most images to around 77-96 pixels per inch and it hasn’t been a problem with them looking sharp. I tend to make sure they are never bigger than the standard eink reader screen–600×800 pixels.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, ereaders don’t use vector images. I kind of hack my way around that by using percentages to set either the width or the height of the image so that it stays proportional to the text. For instance, with a rectangular header, I will size the graphic so it is 800 pixels wide, then set the width at 80%. That way, it enlarges easily and also shrinks, and maintains its crispness no matter the size of the screen or if the reader is reading in portrait or landscape mode.

Where to find images? I like dreamstime.com and shutterstock.com, both of which offer a huge variety of stock photos, illustrations and clip art. Some are free, others can be had for a small price. There are also free clipart sites. Sometimes I make my own images.

SS4I made the “playing cards” with Paint.net and I think they turned out great.

Fonts are another good resource. For the book with the Celtic theme, I used a free wingding font from Dafont.com to make the purple “frame.” Another terrific font resource is fontsquirrel.com. If you’re interested in embedding fonts in your ebooks, fontsquirrel has a lot of embeddable fonts, free to use.

SS6So, experiment, have fun. Make your ebook stand out from the crowd. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune (especially since there are no printing costs!). With a little practice and a bit of imagination, your ebooks can be things of beauty (and extra fun for me to read!).

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