Tag: E-book

Much Ado About Typesetting

Since this is what I’ve been doing lately I figured I’d write another blog about it, but this one is going to be more technical. The first thing I want to tell you – something I learned the hard way – is that typesetting for print and for ebook are 100% different. No joke. If you aren’t going to be printing your book in hard copy then your typesetting is entirely different than it is for a physical book. How I learned this? By spending about four days bouncing off the walls because I couldn’t get my PDF to convert it into a format that didn’t look awful. Every time I tried to export it from InDesign into anything else the formatting was sloppy and horrible. There were random words in random places, page numbers on improper pages… it was nightmarish. So, to save you that frustration I now tell you the obvious: it doesn’t work like that.

Also in this blog post I’m going to discuss interior design, albeit briefly, because that is a part of the process. It, too, changes between formats which is one of the reasons you will notice that e-books tend to be more sparse on things like dropcaps and so on.

To me the easier of the two is e-book formatting, so I’m going to start there. After reading some tutorials online about going from a Word Document to an ebook I twitched. Going from Word straight to press? Perish the thought. The idea of doing that makes most typesetters green at the gills. However, for ebooks it proved to be the simplest way to accomplish the task.

The most important thing I learned about ebook creation is that, unlike traditional typesetting, there are very, very few page breaks. The reason for this is that on a device where the font can be changed and text made larger or smaller you can’t predict where the page breaks will be. As a result you should not insert them except at the end of chapters where you want to force the flow to switch pages no matter what font or size the reader is engaging at.

Secondly is don’t use dropcaps or other fancy formatting. It won’t carry over cleanly and will provide a massive headache. You can do simple things like adding in bullet points or maybe a horizontal rule, but it will be very difficult to have text boxes off to the side and so on without being far better at this than I am. As a result you want to limit yourself to as light formatting as possible. Stick to the usuals – bold, italic, underline, strikethrough. The reason for this is because when the Word document is exported through the conversion program it is changed into xhtml which is then read into .mobi, .epub, or whatever format you like.

If you have graphics you will want to keep them as simple as possible and avoid their use if you can because they may not align well. Epub is a rather limited file format, or so I am told, and it can’t really handle a lot of the things that we might want it to, so be careful what you attempt to do with it. I am sure that, with enough time and learning, those of you writing childrens’ books that are full color and illustrated could figure out how to make your pages look good in that format, but I couldn’t tell you right now how to do it. This is more for books that are a straight read and contain very few graphics.

formattingexample

When you are done with your formatting the pages should look like this (without the red). They should be LEFT ALIGNED and have minimal formatting. This page has a page break before the first line and after the ISBN because it needs to stand alone in the book. I killed the personal information about this book because it’s not ready to hit the market yet, and this page may not be in its final form.

Finally, transferring your Word Document to the various file formats can be done in several programs. Calibre, for one, is open source and does a good job creating the files for you.


Traditional typesetting, however, looks much different and, unlike ebook formatting, should decidedly not be done in Word. As I referenced in my last post, I have developed a strong preference for InDesign as a typesetting program. It is a little less overtly friendly than MS Publisher, but it proved its worth to me in letting me have a project done in far less time than I could have anticipated otherwise.

When you are traditionally typesetting you must control leading (the distance between lines), kerning (the distance between individual letters), page breaks, page numbers, and everything else you see when you open the page of a book. Spoiler alert – there’s a lot you don’t even realize is there until you start doing it.

One of the biggest things you are going to be looking for during your typesetting process is eliminating widows and orphans. That is, lines of text leftover on a page or column when the rest has migrated onto the next page. A widow is a single line of text at the bottom of a page where an orphan is the same thing at the top of a page. They’re sad, lonely things and really should be with their families.

In addition to that you must work on designing the page layout for each page. The author’s name, the book’s name, the page numbers, the use of graphics on the chapter pages… all of these things are part of your process and are a lot of work. I’m not going to give you a step-by-step process on how to do this because there are better tutorials out there than I can provide that will center around your preferred software.

Perils and Pitfalls: Self Publishing Edition

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
A Picture of an eBook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Authors have a lot of people hawking services to them from the minute they start to the minute they finish. There are people out there that will do everything from sitting with you step by step, to marketing your book, to rewriting the damn thing for you. And probably wiping your nose while they do it.

The cause of this, in my estimation, is the dramatic turnover in the publishing industry. Whereas before in order to be published authors almost had to go the traditional publishing route in order to be considered a “real” book these days the DIY trend is pervasive. This, of course, means that there is a huge influx of writers looking for professional help while they engage in the various stages and flavors of publishing.

In this market there are many people looking to prey on authors that are new, inexperienced, or ignorant of what goes on. There are “editors” that can’t edit, “reviewers” that charge an arm and a leg for reviews, “self publishing” companies that are no better than Publish America, and “cover artists” that steal copyrighted material to make covers with.

How can an author protect themselves in this environment? The best way is to educate yourself. Read, watch, and think about everything you encounter. There are certain things that an author (specifically a self publishing author) needs, but there are a lot of “services” that you can forego. And even more that you may be getting scalped on.

1) Editing

Many writers reference the Freelance Editing Association as the paragon of freelance editing. I don’t know how good their skills are, but I can tell you that their prices are outrageous. If you want to pay that much money to receive editing I won’t stop you, but I can say that there are a lot of very good editors out there that won’t scalp you. I’m one. Also, just because they are in the FEA doesn’t mean that they’re good – anyone can pay the membership fee and join. Unless you have worked with an editor before or have been referred to them by happy clients don’t trust anyone’s abilities until you see them in action. Also, don’t judge us by their blog posts – we write these at midnight while furious at injustice and having drunk too much caffeine.

Another thing I’ve seen with editors is that there are a lot of sub-par editors that charge a lot because they think those are the going rates. These editors miss important and large issues with works, and I don’t mean missing the occasional typo or something; I mean big, sweeping problems. Make sure you see if you can find any reviews of the editor or company before you decide to have them pick up your book, and see if they offer a sample edit. Remember, an editor is like any other service: you are paying them to perform a service. Don’t be cowed by their expertise (whether real or imagined).

2) Cover Design

Cover design can be a HUGE money pit for authors doing freelance work. There are a lot of people out there offering photomanipulated covers for prices in the hundreds, and the work isn’t… bad, but it isn’t amazing. Unfortunately, many of these people are using brushes, photos, fonts, and resources from stock that they didn’t pay for, aren’t crediting properly, or aren’t permitted to use. It’s a common problem. They then sell these covers without licenses to do so, and the author using the cover becomes culpable for the copyright infringement.

Save yourself the trouble and make SURE that the cover artist doing your work (or you, if you’re doing it) have the proper licensing to use everything you are using on your cover.

I won’t comment on the cost of handpainted covers because they are a huge amount of work, and the artist has to speak for themselves since you will have seen their art before commissioning them to design a cover for you.

3) Ebook Conversions

This one I just heard of. Apparently people are charging hundreds of dollars to have their finished manuscripts converted into ebooks. And I don’t mean typesetting – that’s worth hundreds of dollars or more. I just mean strict conversion to ebook format without the typesetting. That made my jaw hit the floor.

The best method I was given was to export your manuscript as an unfiltered HTML document, load it into Calibre (a free, open source program) and format it that way. There is a learning curve, but it won’t cost you anything other than some cursing and effort.

4) Reviews

ALL reputable review sources (magazines, newspapers, etc.) make their money off of sales of their product and advertising, not off of selling reviews. They do not charge authors for them. Unfortunately, some of the larger venues only accept requests for reviews by reputable publishers, and are thus inaccessible to self published authors. However with that being the case you should never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a review. Anyone who is charging you is scalping you. Just don’t do it.

Also, Amazon will remove reviews they discover are paid for, and Amazon doesn’t typically remove reviews for many reasons. I can’t underscore this enough – you are being scammed. You will not make back that money, and the people doing it are not providing you with a serious service.

5) Self Publishing Companies

These aren’t all bad. Some of them can be a huge resource to authors. Others are nightmares waiting to happen a la Publish America. Again, as with all others (except reviewers) read the reviews seriously. Look for people that have used their services, and examine the books that they have helped put out. If they’re full of errors, have ugly covers, and the typesetting looks like a fifth grade paper you have your answer.

Since I offer self publishing services I won’t tell you that we’re all crooks and highwaymen, but just be cautious, and stick with reputable people where you can.

Overall, you just want to pay attention. Look for reviews on the people and services that you think you might be interested in, ask for samples, and don’t part with your money readily just because someone says, “Oh, yeah, you need this for your book!”

The reality is that there are a few things you need. Most of them you don’t have to pay for. As in my previous blog, self publishing comes with unavoidable costs that traditional publishing doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that all costs associated with self publishing are unavoidable. Or need to be egregious.