iBooks tips for formatting

Yes, iBooks has formatting rules. You have to abide by them and think about them as you’re formatting a book for ePub. Most of the rules are the same, abiding by the rules set out by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). But there is one little thing that I didn’t know.

Several of my clients like using ALL CAPS for their book titles. Now that’s perfectly OK if referring to a list of their books, or talking about one of their books within the body of the eBook, such as in the Bio… MY INCREDIBLY AWFUL MORNING.  I like to set these titles off in italics or bold italics myself… My Incredibly Awful Morning… because I think the reader’s eye can pick this out better. And also to me ALL CAPS seems like shouting.

However, some like to have this ALL CAPS title on the title page… and I’m betting that’s OK, but the iBooks rules state that titles should be in Title case… which means First and Last word capitalized as well as any words in between except those little ones (a, an, the, you know the ones) in regular case.  So, when you are uploading directly to iBooks (and that means only with a MAC, not even with an iPad although it’s an Apple product… I know this… I asked them), make sure that when you give them your title at the book set-up you use the correct format for it and NOT ALL CAPS.

Also there seems to be a problem with the file name generated by conversion software such as Calibre if your ePub file is  being uploaded at iBooks. They don’t like those spaces that Calibre generates in the Title… My Incredibly Awful Morning – Lizzie Bordon.epub… The spaces bother them. So if you are directly uploading to iBooks, just rename your ePub file… My_Incredibly_Awful_Morning-Lizzie_Bordon.epub or MyIncrediblyAwfulMorning_LizzieBordon.epub.  I think this will suffice. Although sometimes my computer warns me that I’m doing something awful by changing the file extension, although of course I’m only changing the file name and not the extension which stays .epub. But I think that’s an issue between me and my operating system from Microsoft.

I hope this helps someone. To get this info, I even had to have a client who works on a MAC send me the PDF of the iBooks instructions because of course since I’m a PC baby, I couldn’t reach their Content section. Maybe it was because I don’t have a publisher or author account though. But soon… we’re breaking down and getting as cheap of a MAC as we can so that we can offer things like… uploading clients files to iBooks.

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Re-arranged Chapters

I got a shock last night from a client. I had bundled 3 of her best-selling novels into one Anthology. It was gorgeous. I did the work many months ago. BUT yesterday a reader emailed her and said one of the chapters in the second book in the bundle was misplaced! If it was misplaced, why on earth is she just hearing about this now… almost 5 months after publication date and after she’s sold untold numbers of copies? Well, that’s another issue entirely.

How could that happen? No clue, so I went back to the source… the original WORD doc. There were all the neatly organized files for all the books. The table of contents linked to each chapter beautifully and the chapters tripped one after another in a nice organized manner.

Then I went to the epub on my iPad (which I use to preview epub files). I opened the book, went to the appropriate chapter with the TOC… it was there. Then I paged through to the next chapter. What the HEY! That’s not the next chapter! How in the world could this happen?

So then I went to the source… the html file. Nope all files in order. This was getting stranger and stranger. How could the html file be correct and the resulting epub file be incorrect?

Getting really frustrated (well it was past my bedtime and my office had been closed for hours) I looked at the epub that I had made on Calibre. Viewed it with the Calibre viewer. Nope, all files were in order, so the html file that I uploaded to Calibre to start the process wasn’t the problem.

Now maybe Sigil, the editor, was the problem, although I haven’t a clue how an editor could misplace an entire chapter. So I viewed the file in Sigil… Chapter 10 came neatly after Chapter 16. I opened the manifest from the menu (handy thing those Sigil menues… all your fonts, images, styles, manifest, etc… are listed so you can easily reach them). Oh look… html40 (which was the identifier for the 2nd book, 10th chapter) was right after html46 (the identifier for the 2nd book, 16th chapter). Could I move those around?

It was too late and I was too tired, so I just uploaded the correct HTML to Calibre, got a correct EPUB, uploaded that to SIGIL, did a ton of necessary editing, looked good, validated it, then opened the validated epub in Adobe Digital Preview…. all files were in order. Converted the epub file to mobi with KindlePreviewer, all files were in order. Then I went to bed.

This morning I was still thinking about that messed up manifest and how I could have easily corrected the mistake. At least my client now has a new epub and mobi file with all her chapters in order… but maybe I could have done this differently.

So I opened the manifest of the old epub in Sigil… where it was wonky… highlighted the ‘html40’ line, moved it to its proper place right after ‘html39’ then looked at the epub again in Sigil… Chapter 10 was still out of place, but I went over to the TOC.ncx (on the left of the screen), cut the ‘html40’ line out of the TOC, pasted it under the ‘html39’ line, cleaned up the blank lines… and re-previewed.  Oh looky there!!! The files were all in order. So there was an easy fix after all. Who knew you could just move those lines and individual chapter html files around?

The moral of this story… although I don’t think something so wonky has a moral… but if it did it would be ‘carefully look at the entries in the TOC.ncx and the manifest in Sigil before completely re-converting the file because if you find a mistake there you can easily fix it… don’t be afraid!’ Good to know that you can actually move those TOC.ncx html files around. But remember you have to start with the manifest and move the misplaced line to its correct position… this will re-number the TOC.ncx entries. Then the mistake in the TOC.ncx will be glaringly apparent and you move it where it needs to be.

To get back to the original problem… I still haven’t a clue how the HTML file got corrupted or how the manifest could have lost some of its organization between Calibre, where it was made, and Sigil, where it was edited. If anyone has a clue, let me know PLEASE.  Hopefully none of my clients find misplaced chapters. Unfortunately I always check the TOC to see if all the chapters are there, but I don’t normally page through to see if the chapters fall where they should… I’ll do that from now on obviously.

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Create Space and Internal images

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… you learn something new every darn day. And today it was something about Create Space.

I love working in POD (print on demand). It’s so creative. But for a few of my clients, internal images haven’t been coming out very well. Stupid me never thought that there would be something within WORD’s default system that was causing this problem. In the current project I was agonizing over a logo, a simple script plus paint swoosh element. The working file was done in Adobe Illustrator (eps) and then I exported it into Adobe Photoshop (jpg) in 300dpi, as Create Space instructs. This works nicely.

Now the trouble comes. I put that image (jpg, 300dpi) into a WORD doc, it looked good, saved it as a PDF file (as Create Space instructs), my client uploaded it, and the previewer in CS said that the image was 150dpi. Now how could that be, you say? The image was directly placed into WORD from Photoshop where the image was 300dpi. However… and here comes the problem… Create Space doesn’t like compression, and they’re right. WORD tries to compress everything you do so that the final file will be nice and tidy and compact. But when you’re printing this sucker… you want it nice and tidy and CRISP!!!

Just changing the WORD file so there is no compression actually doesn’t work, so instead I went directly to the PDF which is uploaded to Create Space, and edited the image within the PDF… I can do this because I have ADOBE Pro which allows all kinds of editing and other stuff to go on directly within the PDF. So I deleted the image that was in the PDF, then replaced it with an image from Photoshop which I know is 300dpi. And then saved it. At least the file size is bigger which leads me to believe that the image I placed into the PDF has more dpis.

Just heard from my client… the book is uploaded and there are NO issues within the preview. Eureka! I think we have it.

All I can say is… WORD… you’re a mess! And also… Create Space… you should have mentioned this problem before, like in your instructions! Just checking that box marked DO NOT COMPRESS IMAGES within WORD’s Options – Advanced – Image will not be sufficient. Even though you tell WORD not to compress an internal image, they do anyway, at least through the ‘Save as PDF’ command.

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To TOC or not to TOC

Well, again on the Mobilreads forum, that’s a forum for all of us who produce ebooks for Kindle as well as epub… on a thread that has been ongoing for months about the Start point in Kindle ebooks… we have found that Amazon is doing something to our books even after they are uploaded. Here’s the story so far.

Back about last December Amazon started re-setting the Start point on ebooks, well on some ebooks. In the process that I and others use to produce Kindle content(and there are many ways to make a Kindle ebook) We start with an HTML file which has already been tagged with a Start point (Start_Reading) usually either on the Prologue if there is one, or if not on Chapter 1. Lately most of my clients want a Reader Letter right before the start of the book, so I put the Start_Reading tag there.

Then I take that ‘tagged’ HTML file, put it into Calibre and build an epub. But there’s more. Then I take the epub into a program called Sigil, a text editor that works with epubs as well as HTML, and re-tag all my points… Cover, Title page, copyright page, Table of Contents, and Start_Reading although the guide feature in Sigil calls this merely ‘text’.

Now here may be the problem. Amazon really wants the Table of Contents to be in the front of the book as if this were a non-fiction. But these books aren’t non-fiction and don’t even need a TOC, it’s just a courtesy to readers to put one in so they can get to things like… well, the Reader Letter, Acknowledgments, Dedications, Author Bio… stuff like that. But most of my clients don’t like to clutter up the front of the book with these things… they want me to put some of it in the back, most particularly the TOC. It affects the Sample size of the book. If your TOC runs 3 pages, then that’s 3 pages less of actual text.

The thread on Mobilreads has been discussing this lately and thinks Amazon has been inserting their own ‘Start-Reading’ tags or SRL willy-nilly (well, not really, they do have a process) into a book after it’s uploaded. They want the book to open at the text right after the TOC. AND if you don’t do this then it may affect these features “If You Liked The Book” and “Last Page Read”. That’s the rub, we don’t actually know if it DOES affect those features.

Do you see the problem? The TOCs in my books are at the end! Now I haven’t noticed that any of the books I have produced since December have a wonky start, or that the TOC cannot be accessed with the little ‘open book’ icon on my kindle… but then I’m not buying those books… They haven’t actually gone through the upload process at Amazon (or KDP their publishing site). And none of my clients have gotten letters either from Amazon or from Readers that their purchased books have a weird start point. But… I guess I’m putting the TOC back at the beginning where Amazon wants it. Most of the books that I have on my Kindle (the purchased books… and I have several hundred) open just fine where they’re supposed to and also most have the TOC in the back of the book. One of my Mobilreads buddies even said that James Patterson… well his formatter, I’m sure he doesn’t format his own books… puts a mini-TOC in the front of the book which is linked to the actual TOC in the back… I may try that… but personally I don’t think readers will know what to do with a Mini-TOC… maybe I’ll have to get a sample of one of his books and see what one looks like.

I think I shall take my problem to the top… tech support at KDP (Kindle’s publishing site). I’ll let you know how that goes!

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Time Got Away From Me

Wow, it’s been a few months since I blogged. That’s what happens when you’re working with clients and trying to finish 3 of your own novels. But I seem to have a window of opportunity today, and I’ve learned some new things lately so I thought I’d pass the info on.

1) There are still reasons to use a distributor such as Smashwords or Vook to make sure that all of the eRetailers have access to your prose. However, lately many of my clients are getting publisher accounts at not only B&N but also Kobo and iTunes/iBooks. They are asking me to just format an epub and a mobi/Kindle for them instead of the very simple Word document that Smashwords and others require. This is good for me because I can work on just one format and not two.

2) Cascading Style Sheets or CSS. This just means that you can use more simple styles such as Normal and Center and adapt them to your needs on the fly so to speak. If all of a sudden you would like a regular paragraph (Normal, with an indent of 0.25″, single space) to have a trailing space in just this one instance of 12pt or 1 blank line, then you just adjust that one paragraph (with your ‘Paragraph’ feature on the ‘Home’ ribbon of your Word program) but leave the style at Normal. This works well with Word docs and epubs but doesn’t work for most older Kindle eReaders as they don’t ‘read’ the CSS style of formatting. So to get my formatted eBooks to look correct in ALL eReaders (epubs and Kindle) I have set up specific styles for every instance… a) that trailing 12pt space is now a Style named Normal12 b) An entire paragraph of italics within normal text is now NormalItalic c) A line of italics which is centered is CenterItalic… the list goes on to about 40 specific styles. So when I’m formatting using the more complex epub or Kindle KF8 formats, and I run into a section of text such as a poem or a dream-sequence, I just pull up that NormalItalic (dream-sequence, the entire paragraph is italicized) or CenterItalic (poem) and… voila… every eReader will see what I want them to see. CSS vx Complex Styles for Kindle was one of the most confusing aspects of the formatting process that I had to overcome. I’m actually working on a tutorial which can be viewed soon on my website (www.athirstymind.com) I find that most of my clients aren’t familiar with using or adding Styles to their Style set on the Home ribbon and I hope after viewing this tutorial, they are at least on the same page when I talk to them about Styles.

3) Editing epubs using Sigil. This little free program is actually fantastic, a text editor similar to Notepad but with a WYSIWYG, What You See Is What You Get feature so you don’t have to blow up your brain looking at HTML code! You drop an epub file into the program and you can choose Book View (WYSISYG) or Code View (HTML). Say a reader complains about a typo in Chapter 6… ‘comer’ instead of ‘corner’… a very very common OCR error. Well you go to Chapter 6 in your epub… by the way, each chapter/page break will be a separate html file in this program because that’s the way an epub is constructed so you have to actually find (on your left you will see a menu listing each file in the epub) the Chapter 6 file, then you can search for ‘comer’ in the text with the search feature… then just correct the word and save the file… There… you have a corrected epub to upload a new version to the eRetailers or just send the epub file directly to your reader for them to sideload into their device. This ‘save’ feature will overwrite your original epub, so be careful with it. If you’re editing something like buy-links that you want to go only into B&N or Amazon, then use the ‘save as’ button instead and it will give you a chance to name this new epub with buy-links something like booktitlewbuylinks.epub. But you won’t have added those buylinks to the original epub file. Lots of site that let you upload your epub book to them don’t let you have links within the file to any other eRetailer. And now that you can actually upload an epub at Smashwords, you don’t want to have that buylink in the epub for Smashwords.

4) By the way… epubs to Smashwords. If you are uploading an epub there remember you must leave in that “Smashwords version” phrase which lives in the Smashwords Word file on the copyright page. If it’s not there, they will reject your file. But you want to take this phrase off of any epub that you upload yourself to B&N or iBooks or Kobo. A good time to use that ‘save as’ feature at Sigil I’m thinking.

5) Editing a mobi file. This is a bit different but if you have a corrected epub (see above) then you can use KindlePreviewer, a free Amazon program, to quickly convert that corrected epub into a mobi file and upload the new version to Amazon.

6) Changing the name of a ‘converted through Kindle Previewer’ mobi file. This may seem weird, but when Kindle Previewer converts an epub to a mobi file with the old mobi format plus the new KF8 format entwined in the same file, you get this humongously long file name. I don’t know about your computer, but mine will accept that name, but my offsite backup program will not because the path is too long. So I have to go into my documents folder, find the file that was converted, then rename it. This is normally a very simple process but for some reason (on my Dell Windows 7 computer) if you don’t do this exactly right the renaming process (for just these Kindle Previewer converted files) will blow up in your face. At least you’ll get a dire warning about the file not being usable and are you sure you want to do this. So for me I have to do it exactly this way… every damn time… a) at the end of the file name you will see a long string of date and time numbers, you don’t need those b) highlight the number after the underline _2013-11-3-12:30 highlight everything after the underline but stop before the last -45 or whatever you have at the very end with a dash and a number. _2013-11-3-12-30-45 everything between the underline and the -45. Then delete the highlighted material. c) in step three you backspace and take the underline _ out d) step four you delete the -45 although I don’t highlight it, I just hit ‘delete’ 3 times until it’s not there anymore. OK, you ask, and why will this work like this instead of just deleting the extra numbers and underlines? I haven’t a clue, but that’s what I have to do on my computer. ‘Tis a puzzlement! This kind of file is the only file that a simple re-name doesn’t work on.

7) Embedding fonts… and what that actually means particularly to a Kindle Reader. I got hung up on this a few months ago. Before that the conversion software I was using to make a Kindle or prc file could overcome this ’embedded file’ issue. At least when I formatted a book for Kindle/prc and previewed it I could access all kinds of fonts on my Kindle device and apps. However, since the onslaught of Kindlegen, the conversion of choice for all Kindle ebooks, if you have set your default font to Times New Roman or used TNR in your Style descriptions… then this is considered embedding. And that’s the only font available to use. So my Kindle Fire can only ‘see’ Times New Roman, and cannot substitute Arial, or Verdana or Courier or Caecilia. At this point of frustration I contacted by wonderful wizards on Mobilereads… a forum for ebook users and formatters. They suggested that I edit out all instances of fonts in my HTML file for each ebook. Well the best way to do this is to edit the ‘Style Sheet’ within Sigil. Now the first step in my Sigil edit process (where I tweak the heading font sizes and add Guides to the cover, copyright data, table of content as well as where I want the ebook to begin or start) is to go through each listed Style and just take out that font line. The ebook still has the font (Times New Roman) but it’s no longer considered ’embedded’. A Reader can now choose whatever font is available on their specific reading device to enjoy my fantastically formatted eBook!!! However, since you’re working within an epub (which will soon be converted to a Kindle file) you can actually choose to embed a specific font for your Title, your Chapter Headings and maybe a specific section of your text such as that NormalItalic Style. This has some interesting possibilities actually. I may try this with my client’s permission on an upcoming format. I’ll let you know the outcome.

This blog post seems a bit disjointed, but maybe you can find a couple gems of wisdom among the weirdness.

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You learn something new… every darn day!

Ok, this is a new wrinkle in the formatting adventure. Today a client forwarded an email from Amazon telling the author that a reader had complained that when she tried to read her book in the ‘night’ view (black background, white text), the book disappeared. Amazon said that the text color was ‘forced’ in the file.

What? I didn’t even know you could do that… force a text color… it’s not something that I even  look at! I just assumed that when I did the initial Word format of the book, and chose the Styles (Normal for all the text), then everything would be hunky-dory.

Not so, apparently. When you look at (modify) your styles/font… there is a small text color box which should be set to ‘automatic’. Well, I looked back at some of my former ebook formats… and the ‘Normal’ style was set to ‘automatic’.  However, on this particular ebook, that text color box was set to ‘black’. Who knew? And how did it get set like that?  Fairies and trolls, and the trolls were winning that day, I guess.

Anyway, it was a very simple fix within the code view of Sigil… and then a quick re-convert through Kindlegen. So no problem… but it got me concerned about other books. I spent the afternoon looking at HTML code. Yikes!

The moral of this story is. Don’t force anything on anybody.  And another thing… who in the world reads in that awful ‘night’ view anyway! Black background, white text is so 80s, isn’t it? And it’s awful on your eyes. The only thing I can think is that maybe that’s a good way to read on a Kindle in bright sunlight… although it’s winter here in Maine and we don’t have much sunlight, and it will freeze your ‘whatevers’ off if you go outside to read anyway!

So if anyone out there has a problem like this, reading in the ‘night’ mode, tell your formatter that something is set as ‘color:black’ in the html base of the file.


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iBooks, is there a change happening?

Just recently I’ve had two clients who have either had their books rejected at Apple without reason, or books have been taken down after they’ve been live for a considerable length of time. Let me start with the latter first, because it is most troubling.

A client sent me a Smashwords doc (Smashwords converts a Word file to an epub and distributes to Apple) with the comment that Apple said that there were many font inconsistencies in the book and they were taking it out of publication.  So, since this is something I do everyday, I opened the file to look. Well, it wasn’t formatted as I would format a file for Smashwords, 1.25 spaces between paragraphs instead of single space, the centering of lines wasn’t actually centered (this is easy to do as you have to not just push that ‘center’ button but go into ‘Paragraphs’ and make sure that there is no indent at ‘Special’). The font was Times New Roman throughout, so no font inconsistencies here! There were some errors, typos and formatting, but nothing egregious, something I see in almost every book I read on my Kindle or iPad, usually  not in books I’ve formatted though.

So instead of arguing with Apple or Smashwords, I just purged the file, re-inserted the italics, re-formatted the styles: Normal, Title, Center and Heading 1, and sent it back to the client for re-uploading at Smashwords.  I also warned her that since it was past the July 15 date for those new cover specs, that she should remember to upload her big honkin’ cover, 1600×2400 or something around that.

The next client (and I did do the conversion on this one) forwarded me an email from Smashwords saying that Apple/iBooks had rejected her file but gave no reason. The guys at Smashwords said that they were looking into this and would get back to her… no news yet. But again, if she wants to try once more at Apple, we’ll have to get the new bigger cover uploaded. What a pain!

What I’m thinking, and I’d like your opinions here, is that Apple is trying to upgrade the look of their site and taking down some books which they don’t think (the covers, not the content) look good enough from this new make-over. Hmmm. At least Amazon has assured us (when they put out the new covers specs which are pretty much the specs you’ll need for Apple) that they wouldn’t be taking down books with covers that didn’t fit to their specifications, but that the covers might not show up on their product page.

Personally and professionally, I’m troubled by all these changes. I know the eRetailers want their sites to look good, but their business is supporting authors. Without those authors they don’t have a business, now do they. I’m hoping that these two instances are just aberrations, and that this won’t be happening to any other clients. I’m also concerned that if there were errors in the content of these books, that Smashwords (who actually converts them into epubs) didn’t catch the errors before the books made it into their Premium Catalog. They’ve always done that in the past, and early on in my career I had a couple of books that had to be re-formatted and sent back to Smash because of some font and content issues, thankfully nothing in the last year though. So will I be getting more books back from Smash? And if there’s nothing wrong with them, and I dump Word docs into HTML to make sure, what do I do?

It’s a conundrum and I and my clients would like your feed-back.

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