Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

E-Booking

Deb Scott over at Stony Moss wrote a nice post about how Birds Nobody Loves looks, works and reads on iPads, Kindles and paper so I figured I’d put something up here by way of explaining how it came to exist in its various forms.

I kicked around the idea of doing Birds Nobody Loves as an e-book but an illustrated book of poetry seemed like it would carry a pretty steep learning curve for a first e-book what with the whole line break issue and that kept me from pursuing it until I read Nic Sebastian’s Dark and Like a Web on my phone (before buying the paperback) and saw how well it worked. I read her blog posts on the subject and learned how she used Dave Bonta’s hanging indent solution in her e-books and so, I decided to give it a try.

I coded the EPUB version of Birds Nobody Loves using eCub. It was surprisingly easy for me considering I’ve spent a lot of time playing with the HTML and CSS on this blog over the years. That was the biggest surprise for me: an e-book is nothing but a series of web pages governed by a CSS file. Who knew?

It wasn’t long before I had an EPUB file that looked great on my phone and that took my breath away when I saw it on a borrowed iPad, which rendered the illustrations beautifully. And, the hanging indents worked too.

Next up was Kindle-izing the thing, which required a conversion to MOBI format. ECub works with Amazon’s Kindlegen to create a MOBI file but when I checked it in Amazon’s Kindle previewer, which lets you see what your book looks like on various Kindle devices, I was horrified to learn that while it looked great on the Fire it looked awful on all the other Kindles. I could “fix” this by removing the hanging indent code, which made it look okay across all devices but the poetry would lose the formatting if the reader made the font too big.

I messed around with the code for the better part of the day and then gave up, figuring I could either ditch the whole hanging indent idea for Kindles or just not release it for Kindle at all. I thought there had to be a way for the book to know what kind of device it was being played on and then serve up the hanging indent CSS if it was being played on a Fire, but how?

And here’s yet another reason why I love the Internet: there’s always someone smarter out there with the same problem I’m working on. That very night, Liz Castro at Pigs, Gourds and Wikis posted an excellent tutorial on how to get hanging indents in a poetry e-book (using the same technique Dave worked out) and how to make them work on ALL Kindle devices by having the book serve CSS geared toward whichever Kindle device was playing the book. It took less than 10 minutes to have the Kindle version working perfectly.

The Nook was another matter. The EPUB file seems to play well on my Dad’s Nook but when I uploaded it to the Nook Store, I found that Barnes & Noble seems to make changes to the file that destroy all the line breaks. Either that or the Nook doesn’t read EPUB like Apple’s products. So, sorry Nook users, I haven’t solved that one yet.

After that it was easy to upload the book to Lulu, the iBookstore and the Kindle Store.

Now, go pay Deb a visit and see what she has to say about it. And then read her blog.

3 Comments

  1. I did the formatting for mine in InDesign. Not something I recommend for the novice as the learning curve is steep. Since I did the book layout on InDesign and Amazon supplied a plugin, I elected to just stick with ID.

    The drawback is converting to ePub and other formats. Especially using Smashwords. So, I’m sort of limited eBook wise. Which is fine as I’ve not sold many copies in that format anyhow.

    Congrats on a fine looking book, James.

  2. Off to read Deb’s thoughts about this- funny because I was just sitting here yesterday thinking, “I wonder how he got that as an e-book”- and now I come here and you have explained.

  3. Thanks for writing our your experience, James! I haven’t yet tried a complex formatting job with hanging indents, but when I do I’ll come back and check your links. It all reminds me of the early days of website design — I’m quite sure in a few years this will feel like the dark ages of e-book formatting.

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