Fixing old ebooks

Just recently one of my clients wanted to upload three of her books onto a new site, but she couldn’t find her ‘final’ epubs. I looked on my computer and her folder was a mess… she was my first client and I was just learning… and learning… and learning. Now I have a client folder, inside that –  one folder for each book… all formats… easy to find.  So we found the latest date… and went from there, but even then, there was lots of tweaking going on in Sigil to make the TOC work and to be sure the ebook validated through IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

So, I guess this is a warning about organization. Think ahead. I guarantee that next year or the year after you’ll want to upload a new cover, add some content, change out your dedication (maybe taking off your ex’s name… life changes, you know).

And remember to have those honkin’ big display covers on hand… and check current image specs at Smashwords, Kindle and the other eRetailers such as B&N/PubIt, iBooks/iTunes (you can get a publishing account there now, and upload directly to iBooks using an epub).

Technology is changing so fast. As long as you just upload your ebook and forget it you’ll probably be ok, but if you ever want to tweak it, then all bets are off, new rules apply, particularly with cover images and I would think formatting of the new versions that you want to upload to all the ebook sites.

I’ve learned my lesson today… organization, organization, organization. Words to rule your life!

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Kindle Previewer

A short blog today because it’s just too pretty to stay inside and work! 61 degrees and clear here on the coast of Maine, with a high today of about 75.

Well, I’ve been struggling with trying to make an epub (the silk purse) into a mobi (the sow’s ear) for months.  I know Kindle Preview/Kindlegen is the Amazon prefered way and I have already had one mobi file (made by Calibre) refused by Amazon (which they are threatening to do with all Calibre-built mobis), but I just can’t get the output that I want through Kindle Previewer/Kindlegen.

The trouble is in the “Center” style in the original Word document which goes through so many permutations before it gets to anyone!  When I build a style in Word it asks for what Style the new Style is based on (I normally say… Normal) and also the style that will be following it. Again I say Normal, because that’s, well… normally the case.  I’ve noticed though that unless blocks of text are Styled together in this “Center” style… the next line of text (outside the block) drops its style off unless it is actually styled ‘Normal’.  Does this make sense to you?

Example:   Center:  3 lines of a very nice review.  Then I go back and pick up the next line which happens to be a title… so I style it also as ‘Center’ but with a little futz to the font size and line spacing and in Word it’s fine, in Calibre Epub it’s fine, in a Calibre Mobi file it’s fine… but in the epub-generated Kindlegen Mobi, that style reverts to ‘Normal’ obviously following the instructions in the original ‘Center’ Style… following style – Normal… and ignoring that this title is also styled ‘Center’.  At least I think that’s the problem, because the wonkiness seems to be centering around this ‘Center’ style issue.

Needs more experimentation, yes?  I’ll let you know.  This issue needs to be solved ASAP before Amazon truly decides that it’s their way or the highway!

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Vook, a new distributor and other ebook musings

So, I was reading my Publishers Weekly last week and ran across a big add for Vook. Have you heard of them? They’re a new company like Smashwords: you upload a Word doc or docx or an epub file and they convert it for you and then distribute it, royalty free to Apple, B&N and Amazon. Sounds good but it’s not really free… you pay a subscription to use the service. The one book package starts at $99. Check them out yourself by going to

I looked into this because it sounded like they were somehow affiliated with Publishers Weekly… but I’m not sure about that. Most of my clients upload to Smashwords who doesn’t charge a fee, but does take a cut (5% I think), so if you were selling a lot of one of your titles, Vook might work for you. On reading their instructions (Vook), I was pretty confused about how they wanted you to format your Word document though… really confused. In fact it went against everything that I have learned about constructing a good-looking document in Word. I guess I need to see one of their books because the examples that they showed to illustrate things like Titles was truly awful. But I have my methods, they’ve worked for me for a long time, and I’m sticking with them. And although I do give my clients a Word ‘doc’ for Smashwords, it’s very simply and specifically formatted so that it makes it’s way through Smash’s ‘meatgrinder’ unscathed. The epub and mobi/Kindle formats I build with an HTML file… so much more control over your output that way.

I guess I’m talking about this today because I’m concerned about the quality of the ebooks that I’m seeing lately. Quite a few just don’t look very good. All the words are there (or most of them are anyway), but they just aren’t very attractive… big honkin’ fonts, strange margins, odd image formatting, stuff like that. Of course the biggest offenders are the books converted by the New York publishers. I think they just try to get as many ebooks up as they can as fast as they can. Last night I started a book by one of my favorite authors, big publisher, very disappointed in the look of the book. In fact, although I bought it at the Kindle store specifically for my Kindle Fire, after a few pages I switched to reading it on my iPad because the story is just so freakin’ good, as are all of his books, even though the iPad isn’t very comfortable for reading in bed. For some reason it just looked better on the iPad, maybe because the font size coding in the book just wasn’t working on the Kindle Fire but did work in the ‘Pad.

You know, I don’t think of myself as a formatter anymore, but as an Ebook Designer. I’m striving to get my proofing perfect, but I still find that I overlook some words and punctuation even when I run that document through SpellCheck one more time, and I have my SpellCheck set so it finds everything. Just today, I went back over a book, a big book, and found two dropped periods, one beginning quote which should have been an end quote and upon instead of up on.  That actually was a new one. Usually I’m looking for clown instead of down, or but instead of hut! Now that was a funny proofing error… the sentence had the heroine putting a notebook in her but instead of in her hut… a real story changer. Reminds me of what happened on The University of Texas School of Public (Pubic) Affairs Commencement program. Proofing is hard, and getting it perfect is just about impossible. After reading 120,000 words twice, your brain and your eyes start to battle for superiority… You eyes see one thing, but your brain (the dominant member of this partnership) just knows it’s something entirely different. What’s a girl to do… as a last resort, run it through SpellCheck… just one more time!

But to get back to Ebook Design, I think that ebooks should be as attractive as print books. Clear fonts, crisp images, small images for book excerpts, flourishes which look especially nice in Regencies. Some authors are beginning to use small line drawings as scene change markers as well as beautiful line work as borders above and below titles and other elements to set them apart. I really enjoy doing flourishes. I did a blood splatter for one of my clients and found that if I converted the ‘jpg’ mage to a ‘gif’ image with color fill (red of course) but no outline then it wouldn’t have that pesky white box around it in Kindle when you have your screen set on Sepia. That just drives me nuts. Epubs don’t react that way, no white box no matter what color you make your screen. So if any of you write Vampire novels, call me and I’ll do some flowing blood for you!

And in closing, I just have to give out a big Thank You to my fellow formatter and a fabulous author, Lori Devoti. She showed me how to save the italics during a nuclear purge… what an incredible time-saver.  Go check out her books such as The Witch Thief and Trust Me, they’re wonderful. And don’t forget novels by her alter-ego, Rae Davies, such as Loose Screw and Cut Loose, Dusty Deals Mysteries.

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Smashwords New Cover Guidelines

Well, where Amazon goes, others quickly follow.  Today on the Smashwords Blog, we got notice of new Cover Guidelines from Apple, one of the eRetailers that picks up books from the Smashwords Premium catalog.  As of July 15 eBook display covers should be a minimum of 1400 pixels in width with a ratio of 1.5… Smashwords suggests that a cover be 1600 x 2400 pixels. And they are in turn requiring that size for books published to their Premium Catalog after July 15.

Remember, this is the cover image YOU upload on your Smashwords dashboard, the display cover which goes up on the ‘buy’ page of Sony, iBooks, Kobo, etc.  Of course at Smashwords, this is the only cover you have. Your formatter will have sent you a Word.doc with no cover embedded.

If you’re uploading yourself at iBooks/iTunes, you will have an epub from your formatter which will be embedded with a cover and other images (excerpts, etc.), that is NOT the cover I’m talking about. That cover size hasn’t changed and most use an image of 600×900 pixels or an iteration of that and 72 or 96 dpi resolution just to keep the file size down for a manageable upload.

The new cover guidelines are for that Display Cover that pops up on the eRetailer sites with the specs of the book, the cost, reviews, sample options, etc.  When you open a book on your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Sony Reader, whatever, the cover there has been added within the metadata during conversion of your eBook from Word/HTML/Epub or Mobi by your formatter.

So make note: Be sure your cover designer gives you multiple cover images… one being 1600×2560 pixels, one being 800×1280, and one to use as a thumbnail or excerpt image of 200×320.  These sizes all have a 1.6 ratio, a good cover proportion and one that Amazon suggests, not the 1.5 ratio that Smashwords suggests. The cover suggested by Smashwords of 1600×2400 is fine with a ratio of 1.5, but I would tell my designer to abide by that 1.6 ratio rule, but that’s just my preference as an artist. It really makes no nevermind, as my Oklahoma grandmother always said… 1.5 or 1.6, just keep them proportional.

And remember, you can’t just resize an image that you already have. If you’re enlarging the image, you’ll get a very fuzzy picture, not good at all. The best way to do that, and I’m sure most Cover designers abide by this rule, is to start big with high resolution, then size down from there. There are print cover specs that most use, so that they always have one Master image that can be adjusted to whatever format you need, but it’s a BIG image, probably lots more than 1mg in size.  I never use that one when I embed metadata into an epub or mobi file, it makes the file ginormous. Instead I get out my Adobe Elements and just save that biggie to another image at a lesser dpi and smaller size. But then I don’t upload eBook files for clients normally. That’s a publisher’s job and my clients are the publishers of their own works, not me.

Don’t worry, if you have already uploaded (now or before July 15) they won’t reject your cover/eBook. But in the future (after July 15) if you want to change out covers on books you’ve already published, be aware, the new display covers have to abide by these new rules or they WILL reject your file.

Isn’t it always something! I’m really having a hard time keeping up. Now there’s a rumor that KDP will reject your mobi file if it’s been converted using Calibre and not Kindlegen or Kindle Previewer. I’m researching this issue some more though, because 1) I hate using Kindlegen and 2) Kindle Previewer just doesn’t give the output that satisfies me. I have heard through the grapevine that this issue raises it’s evil head only when you ask Calibre to convert to the new KF8 format for Kindle Fire… not something I ever do and none of my clients’ mobi files have been rejected. So no panicking… I’m looking into this and will post later on the mobi/Calibre issue. Until then your eBooks are going live and all is right with the world!

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The KDP Cover and Image guidelines

Self-Publishers:  These are the new guidelines for Cover and Image size and resolution straight from the New KDP Guidelines.  This is just the Kindle guidelines, not Smashwords or PubIt (epub).  Make of them what you will.

This is for the DISPLAY image…the one on your Product page at the Kindle Store… not the cover on your book that is fairy-conveyed to a reading device.  So this is the Cover that you upload via KDP…not the one attached to your  KDP will accept “Display Cover Art” of   1000×625 to 2500×1562 pixels and with high resolution (they say 300dpi, but that’s pretty big… they say they can compress it.

Then for your interior images, make sure each image is not more than 257kb in size (that actually is double what they originally wanted).  So send your e-book designer (I previously called myself a ‘formatter’ but decided that I do so much more than formatting… so now I’m a Designer) not your Display cover for your product page at KDP, but the smaller sized (less than 257kb and resolution = 96dpi) cover.  Just pass this on to your Cover Artist.  They need to give you two covers at least… a big display cover and a cover of 625×1000 is fine, just get it down to 96dpi  and send that last one to me (or whoever designs your e-books).

Now the above is specific only for KDP/Kindle… so check with Smashwords and PubIt to see if their rules have changed. I’m really busy right now and just can’t check for you!

I probably just scared all my clients to death about the new guidelines… but the jist of the news from the KDP Newsletter was pretty skewed and led one to believe that these new Cover guidelines where a good thing, but remember there are 2 covers in an e-book… a display cover, and a book cover.  The display cover is KDP’s problem, they can compress what you send them, so make it as crisp as you can and make it at least 625×1000 pixels in physical size…they want their webpage to look good.

Gosh I’m tired of reading new ‘guidelines’ every other day!  Can technology just take a day off once in awhile! Please!!!



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Trolls at work in my Image Library

My biz partner and I worked all weekend trying to find our way around that pesky white box that is inserted under images (mostly flourishes) in Kindle.  We researched on line and all the posts were as frustrated as we were.  If you use a “jpg” image, the lines are crisp and clear but in any Kindle or app, when the page is not absolutely white, there is a white box under the flourish.  Very very ugly.  This doesn’t happen in ePub apps (Nook, iBooks, etc).

I had designed a bloodspatter image for the end flourish of a vampire novella that I’m converting.  The white box looks just awful under that.  So we tried “png” files…now we had a dark grey box…then we hit on “gif” files.  No grey or white box, but the quality isn’t as good as a “jpg”.  Since this image has no lines, just red fill, the line quality didn’t matter.  The most important thing was the “Ah, Ha” moment when I tested this image in my Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPad app…no white box!!!!  And in the Kindle for PC I can set the color of the page to almost anything…even turquoise!  I must admit that the red bloodspatter didn’t look very good on the turquoise page, but at least it wasn’t surrounded by a white box!

Well this morning the trolls opened the door and just strutted right into my image library.  I took that lovely little Vampire novella and was in the midst of converting it. The preview came up on MobiPocket and I didn’t like the size of the image.  I thought since there were no lines, just fill, I could re-size the image a little larger.  I went back to my Master Word doc, and just re-formatted the image so it was a wee bit bigger, then resaved to a Webpage, Filtered doc (html).  I always look at those html files in Notepad to make sure all the code is good… so I looked at the vampire file, the image, and it wasn’t a “gif” file but a “png” file.   I don’t have a bloodspatter.png file in my image library, just a “gif” and a “jpg”.  Did the trolls bring it with them?  Well, I knew that the “png” wouldn’t give the right results (a dark grey background, worse than the white box)… so I went back to the drawing board.  Back to the Master vampire file, took the image off, inserted a new image which I KNEW was a gif, and reconverted.  This time I looked at the file in my Kindle for PC where you have lots of page colors to choose from.  Picked turquoise and I got a bloodspatter with a dark grey background.  What the “poopie”!  I did this 3 times.  The 4th time… I decided to just use another File folder so I didn’t get anything mixed up.  So I made a new file folder, stuck the Master vampire.doc and a new html file in there.  Then converted the html from the new folder….and I had overcome the trolls.  I don’t know how I defeated them, or why they came to make war on me in the first place…a dinky little 5 minute job turned into a solid hour of frustration.  But in the end I got a “background-less” bloodspatter image.

I don’t think I’ll be able to do it again.  The simplest thing will be to go straight to the source and get Kindle to TAKE OFF THAT WHITE BOX!!!  If ePub doesn’t have it then Kindle/prc/mobi can just concede the war and change their format!!!  Don’t you think?  As a consumer and a developer, I’m sick of this war anyway.   I bet Kindle sent those trolls this morning!  I’m going to have to get out the Oregano! Garlic for Vamps, Oregano for Trolls, right?

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Identifying with the plot


I'm a professional proofreader

Since I proof so many books, I try to be very academic about the texts, looking for scanning errors and  copy editing errors only (it’s surprising how many of those are found in already published books by first-rate publishers, but I’ll speak of that another time). But that’s just not possible for me. I get caught up in the story, in the emotion, in the setting. I begin to identify with the characters. This is not ideal for a proofreader which is probably why I always proof a manuscript twice, first enjoying the story and catching most of the mistakes and then going back over more clinically. Not the best use of my time, but what the “hey”, it’s my time and my schedule, right? And I don’t charge by the hour for proofreading!

I don’t know about you, but I really love a book which takes place in a location with which I’m familiar. It’s so much easier to fall into the story, isn’t it! It’s also easier to catch the little location errors when they occur…putting BookPeople on the wrong street, locating Hutto west of Austin instead of east (my secondary degree in grad school was geography)…things I notice but 90% of other readers won’t. It’s that 10% that you have to worry about though. I once read a novel from a very well-known writer who located the Amazon in Borneo…a big copy edit problem because I know she knew where the Amazon was…it’s big, but doesn’t flow all the way to Borneo!

And if the similarities to my experiences happen in the first chapter or so, I’m completely hooked. Recently I started a novel about a professor and a hunky carpenter…in the second chapter the addition that he had been building fell off the house (channeling Tom Hanks in the Money Pit…didn’t you just love that movie?).  First, I love a story about a guy in a tool belt! Second, I love an academic heroine since I spent a good portion of my life in academia. And third, I can sympathize with a falling addition since my ex-husband fell through my bathroom floor during the re-hab of my 175 year old farmhouse.

I’m almost finished with the proof of this book, and I’m still captured by the story. I’m giving most of the credit to the writing of the author, but a little bit goes to that “kick” I got in the beginning when I put myself and my experiences right there in the storyline.

I’m a happy camper doing this work! How did I get so lucky? And these wonderful authors PAY me…the cherry on the cake!

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