Six Tips For Avoiding Display Problems When Creating eBooks
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.