Part of my job over the past 10+ years in the ebook industry has been the creation of ebooks. Over the years the popular formats have changed and the software used to create ebooks has changed, but there are some concepts about text manipulation that have remained constant. Whether you’re creating ebooks for ePub, PDF, iBooks, tablets, smartphones, or Kindle, there are common mistakes that can be avoided. The information I’m presenting here is based on my own experience, so your mileage may vary.
1. Try not to do any conversions straight from Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is a good program and it’s fine to type your book in it, but Microsoft Word documents don’t convert well into other text formats, like HTML. A lot of ebook creation programs let you import HTML files, which are excellent to use because you can customize the textas much as you want, but the “HTML” that Microsoft Word creates is not really HTML. If you simply take your Word document and “Save As” HTML, you get Microsoft Word’s abomination of HTML, and it doesn’t behave in the same way as real HTML. It’s got a ton of extra junk code in it that isn’t very readable by other programs and you’ll probably end up with a bunch of weird formatting issues.
Instead of using Microsoft Word to create your HTML, make it yourself with a different application. The first step is to save the document as a plain .txt file. Yes, this will strip out all of your formatting, but it will also strip out all of the nonsense code that Microsoft Word creates. I recommend a program like AscToHTM for converting text to HTML, but you can use any other similar program that you like. Make sure you save a copy of your original Word document before you start messing with it.
2. Do small-scale testing
If you’re new to creating ebooks, or if you’re new to text manipulation, or if you’re just new to the particular application that you’re using, do some testing first. For example, copy one chapter of your ebook and make an ebook out of that. This way you can learn how the software behaves without going through all of the work of converting your entire book into ebook format and having to go back and fix mistakes throughout the entire text. You can experiment with things like headings, images, margins, etc, and find out what looks best.
3. Test on an eReader, smartphone, tablet
Test your ebook on as many different types of devices as possible. If you only look at the ebook on your computer screen, you won’t know what it will look like on an eReader, an iPhone, an Android tablet, or whatever else people might read your ebook on. I understand that you might not own all of these devices, but see if you can borrow one from a friend and at least test the ebook on your own phone.
4. Consider small screens
Does your ebook have giant, complicated graphs and charts? Those might not be readable on the small screen of a phone and it will be very important to test it. Images can safely be about 600×400 pixels but even at that size the text will need to be relatively large in order to be readable. If your huge graph has 10pt text that’s imperative for the reader, they’re just not going to be able to read it on small screens.
5. Keep fonts and layout as simple as possible
eReaders like the Kindle, Sony Reader, or Kobo eReader don’t have access to very many fonts. You’ll do best by sticking to the most default font type available. I recommend that you not specify a font at all. That way the eReader can display your text as naturally as possible, and if the ebook reading app does allow the user to change font sizes, they can do that without your book trying to force a font on them.
Footnotes have become a big problem in ebook creation and the reason is, once again, different screen sizes. You have to make an ebook that can display correctly on a computer screen, an eReader, a tablet, and a smartphone, and all of these devices have very different screen sizes. They won’t show the same amount of pages, the same page numbers, or the same amount of text on the screen. This means that you can’t define the bottom of a page for your footnotes because each screen will have a different “bottom” of the page. You could consider moving all of your footnotes to the end of the chapter, and linking to them from the text with hyperlinks.
6. Carefully look through your text
When authors see their book in a different format (say, PDF instead of Microsoft Word) suddenly a lot of typos jump out at them that they didn’t see before. Once you’ve converted your book into .txt, HTML, or an ebook format, you should scan through the entire text to look for errors or typos. You should also scan through the entire text to look for problems that might have been created during the conversion from format to format. You can use this as an opportunity to make sure everything you want to be italic is italic, everything you want to be indented is indented, etc.
All of this might sound like a lot more work that you anticipated, but if you put in the time and effort you’ll end up with a quality ebook, and that’s worth it.
If you’d like to use Aldiko on your Kindle Fire, you can install it via the Fire’s browser. Here’s how:
Before you can install an app that’s not available in the Kindle App Store, you have to change one setting in the Kindle Fire.
- In the top Kindle Fire menu, select the Gear (settings) icon.
- On the next screen, tap the More Icon.
- On the next screen, tap Device. Then choose ON for “Allow Installation of Applications”.
Now you’re ready to download and install Aldiko on your Kindle Fire.
- Open the Kindle Fire’s browser and point it to the latest installation package download of Aldiko at https://aldiko.zendesk.com/entries/402881-download-the-latest-version-of-the-aldiko-book-reader-application#overview
- Download that file to your Kindle Fire.
When that file is finished downloading, a notifications button will appear in the top menu. Tap on that then select the downloaded Aldiko package.
- On the next screen, tap the Install button.
- You should now have Aldiko installed on your Kindle Fire and it should behave like it does on any Android device.
If you’ve tried this, I’d be interested to hear how it went!
I ran across something really interesting today: The Art of Google Books
It gathers images of scans from Google Books that could be considered art. A lot of them are scans of used books with interesting drawing, writing, or ink in them. Others are mistakes caught by the scanner or odd color corrections. The digitization of old books is a very interesting cross between history and technology. Just to see these images of old books with technological skewing feels like some kind of commentary on the state of humanity.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
In this image, the scanner caught the page being turned.
This appears to be a children’s coloring in an old book.
You won’t find this type of stuff in an ebook, that’s for sure. As much as I enjoy the positive aspects of ebooks (like instant delivery and being able to search the text) they will always lack the feel of print-on-paper, and folded page corners, and pages gone brown over time.
Today the folks at Bluefire posted a nice set of instructions for installing Bluefire Reader on your Kindle Fire. The instructions go like this:
The instructions below guide you through the steps for installing Bluefire Reader for Android on your Kindle Fire. Note that you should open this page in the browser on your Kindle Fire before you begin.
- Tap “Settings” on your Kindle Fire (it’s the icon that looks like a gear)
- Tap “More”
- Scroll down until you see “Device”
- In the Device tab, set “Allow installation of Applications” to ON, and tap OK when you see the Warning prompt
- Tap here to download the Bluefire Reader APK (the Android app)
- Once the app has finished downloading, tap the Menu icon at the bottom of the screen and tap Downloads
- Tap on the file named “BluefireReader.apk”
- The Fire will ask if you are sure you want to install the app…
- Tap “Yes”
- The installation process will start…
- After the installation is complete, look for Bluefire Reader in your Apps collection
2) The latest version of Bluefire Reader (Version 1.2.3) will be installed on your Kindle Fire. However, the app is not automatically updated. You will need to check back here from time to time to see if there’s an updated version of Bluefire Reader for Android available.
3) This shortcut is offered as is–without any warranties or support.
This is fantastic for users because it means you can read your Adobe DRM ebooks (PDF and ePub) on your Kindle Fire tablet. But while this is an excellent set of instructions for side-loading Bluefire Reader onto your Kindle Fire, I wonder if it’s too complicated for the average user. They even include a note saying that they’re not going to offer support for this. If you have tried this, what did you think of it? Was it easy or difficult for you to do?
It’s really unfortunate that Amazon (and Barnes & Noble as well) aren’t allowing all apps from the Android Market to be installed on their tablets the normal way. In wanting to force people to use their own apps they’re just crippling their own devices.