Fun with Formatting

I’ve been seeking out beta readers for the freshly finished Thanmir War, since I need to use my CreateSpace code before it expires in June. So if you know anyone who would be interested, please let me know.

I’ve been dabbling with different formats to make the reading experience as easy as possible. I know eReaders are extremely popular and I have one myself, so I’ve been working on making an eReader friendly version. Most eReaders handle PDFs just fine, which is the easiest route, but the PDF I generated from MS Word, using size 14 Garamond font, 1.5 spacing, and page numbers, measures a hefty 2MB in size. Granted that’s not HUGE, but it’s still a pretty big chunk for just text.

So I opted to take a look at the ebook format generated by yWriter. It spit out a nice HTML file with paragraph tags classed for styling and to distinguish scene breaks and chapter titles. And, much to my elation and surprise, it also translated all of my double dashes to ascii tags, as well as all quotes and other special characters. There were a few things, such as indentation and styling that I didn’t quite like, so I pulled out all of the CSS, with the exception of the page-break on titles, since that’s one of the options Calibre uses to separate chapters.

Next step: import into Calibre. If you haven’t used Calibre, it’s a pretty powerful tool for managing and converting ebooks to different formats. It just seems to have an update every time I open it.

After getting Thanmir War into Calibre, I set my metadata for the title, author, and series name. I don’t currently have a cover designed, so that was it. Next, I converted it to ePub, using super easy utilities in Calibre. After messing around a few times, I set the option to not generate a default or svg cover and to add metadata to the beginning. I also set the font family to Garamond and told it to Remove spacing between paragraphs and justify the text.

Now that I had an ePub version, I used Sigil, an ePub editor, to work on the styles. Before looking into ebooks, I hadn’t realized that under the hood, ePub is just glorified HTML and CSS – right up my alley! I opened up Thanmir War in Sigil and looked over a few of the generated html chapters. Then I scrolled down to the styles and looked at the stylesheet.

Calibre adds a lot of CSS to handle the different styles, most of it is redundant and my programmer’s mind says it could probably be cut down, but for the sake of just playing around, I left it. Some things I wanted to change, such as chapter title styling. I left it as a paragraph tab rather than Header1, mainly because the h1 was freaking HUGE when it came to converting it to mobi format. I finally decided 1.4em* font was best, made it bold, and aligned it center. I left the css generated by Calibre, and only added to it. I might tailor it a bit more when I go to make my final version, but for now it’s fine.

*Note: I changed my mind again, separated out the chapter number and chapter title into their own paragraph tags, and added a class called “subtitle” making it 1.8em and dropping the chapter number down to .8em and adding padding to the top.

Sigil has two viewing options: Book View (WYSIWYG) and Code View (all the html markup). I prefer flipping between the two, making my changes in Code View and checking how it looks in Book View. Next step: a bit of visual tailoring.

I flipped through my existing ebooks to look at how professional ebooks are done. The start of each chapter – the text isn’t indented. Some had drop caps, some increased font size. Some used small caps for the first three to five words. Since I’m not confident in my increased initial letter size capabilities, I decided just to go with small caps for the first few words. And since it looked weird doing it for my little “character location indicator” I added to ease the transition from this world to Chikara, I decided to use the no-indent on both the location and the first paragraph. I started the small caps after the first character and capitalized the text for four to six words, depending on the sentence.

Now this can be a bit tedious to do all the mark up by hand, but at least Sigil has a handy utility to create all caps with the push of a button and all you need to do is add the small tags.

To remove the indent, I copied the existing style for the paragraph tag (calibre4 in this instance) in the stylesheet.css, renamed it to something meaningful, removed the text-indent: 1.5em, and changed the class on my paragraph tag.

I deviated from the styling on a few chapters, just because they looked weird. Like the chapters that start out with Cameron’s Commander’s Log. The short choppy headings looked odd, having two not indented and one that was. Since it’s all about visual, I decided to go with what looks best.

Now that everything was pretty in Sigil, I went back to Calibre to convert to mobi from my newfangled ePub. I click convert, let the job run, and… AHHH!

From ePub to mobi, there seem to be some horrific styling issues. It ignored my no-indent and 1.8em on the chapter title is (like the h1) freaking HUGE.

And then I realized, oh wait, my conversion presets were still set up, removing spacing and adding indents. I hit the “Restore Defaults” at the bottom of the preferences page it fixed my no-indents issue. The title font size is still screwy, but I suppose I’ll investigate that later.

I copied my ePub into Adobe Digital Editions and it looks fabulous! I tried it in Readium… fail. Nothing displays when opened in Readium, and it behaves like there’s additional media in there. I tried it on my phone via Aldiko… eh. It opens, it’s readable, but stuff like title CSS and no-indent CSS seem to have been stripped out. But flipping through my other books, Thanmir War isn’t a unique case, so I’m not too worried. My sis-in-law checked the formatting on her Sony and says it’s all good, so I’m satisfied.

I sent the mobi to my smartphone and opened it in the Kindle app. Beautiful! The huge title isn’t huge. The no-indent is proper. I opened it in the desktop reading app, and it still looks great. I’ve concluded the Calibre rendering is different from Amazon’s, so not to trust the way a mobi looks in Calibre.

When I figure out the issues with Readium, I’ll post with how to better construct the ePub to make it work in all eReading apps.

Of course, all of this information is moot if you plan to go with a traditional publishing house or if you hire a professional to stylize the internals of your book for you. Even so, I thought it was a fun learning experience and could perhaps be helpful for someone.

Postscript: Found an excellent article that talks about ebook best practices. Best Practices for Putting Together Your Digital Book by Paul Salvette

Loni Townsend

About Loni Townsend

Wife. Mother. Writer. Ninja. Squirrel.

3 thoughts on “Fun with Formatting

  1. All very interesting and looks good. I may end up having to use this info myself for a novel or two.
    I think marketing’s gonna be my hangup in the end.

    • I decided a while back that I’d be doing self publishing, mainly because of Thanmir War’s length. I’ve read countless resources about how “long books don’t sell” and “publishers won’t pick up long books for unknown authors”.

      Marketing… yeah, that’s an area I lack. If I do come across useful marketing tips I can’t resist, I will be sure to make a post.

  2. Oh yeah. I’ll probably have to split The Rogue King if I want to get it published, even if I go the self-pub route with it.
    It’s not something I look forward to doing, but the whole scale, getting 200,000+ words polished to a professional level would be staggeringly impossible for me to do otherwise.

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