Bro, do you even CMS?
Last week, I attended the ebookcraft and Tech Forum conferences in Toronto. At these events, BookNet Canada brings together editors, publishers, and technical staff to discuss digital publishing. This cute and useful flowchart explains the foci of these closely-linked conferences. For reasons both charitable and baffling, they invited me to speak about poetry formatting for E-books.
Moi, j’avais visité au Canada quelques fois déjà, par ce que j’ai des cousins qui habitent au Montreal et Quebec. Donc, j’ai beaucoup savoir faire au sujet des Canadiens—so just imagine my surprise when nobody in Toronto spoke French.
I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and thus did not attend the ebookcraft hands-on workshops, so I’ll leave those writeups to others. I did attend the speakers’ dinner, where I was surrounded by friendly people. Many of these speakers were people I’d seen and admired at the Books in Browsers conference last fall, and some were people I’ve come to regard as colleagues via the weekly #eprdctn hour discussions on Twitter. Many of them seemed genuinely interested in my talk. Poetry may be a small fraction of the literary output of trade publishers, but it accounts for an outsized portion of the formatting headaches.
Sigil’s Icon for OS X
Editing EPUBs in the Post-Post-Sigil World?
I wrote the first drafts of these tutorials in April and May 2014, and I’ve been dribbling them out ever since. But almost since the day I started, there has been an uncomfortable reckoning on the horizon: Step 5 of my workflow uses Sigil, an open-source HTML/EPUB editor that ceased development right as The Yellow Buick Review project got underway.
Computers, E-books, the Web, life in general—we understand these things to be dynamic and shifting. Anyone reading this blog in 2022 (hi!) will find outdated information. The best I can do is offer honest advice in good faith. But when Sigil went quiet in Spring 2014, I felt as if I were leading people down a path I knew to be a dead end. It was hard to be enthusiastic about documenting Step 5:
5. Place the HTML and CSS files into an EPUB. We’ve been using Sigil, a free, open-source EPUB editor. Sigil wrangles together our HTML/CSS files, plus any images or media files we’ll be using. Sigil also helps us make a Table of Contents…
But I got excited this week reading this post over on the development blog of Sigil:
Now that all changed about a month ago when Kevin Hendricks decided to invest his time in some bug fixes. Then he decided to start working on a plugin framework for Sigil. He’s been spearheading the effort to get this feature implemented. It’s not ready yet but it’s coming a long (sic) nicely.
Why does Step 3 get four blog posts? Because the “Look and Feel” of your E-book matters.
The Bicycle Comics workflow has six steps, but maybe “phases” would be a better word. It’s tough for me to know the right level of detail: too little information and this blog won’t help people format their poetry E-books, too much information and I’ll scare away beginners. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have no trouble simplifying your HTML and your CSS, streamlining your CSS, and making your internal CSS external. Those three tasks rightfully belong in Step 3, but I understand how advanced HTML/CSS coders might want to pick up the pace.
The primary points of this blog are to document the Bicycle Comics workflow for our future projects, and to provide a gathering point on the Web for best practices and conversations around electronic production (eprdctn) of poetry E-books. I’d love any and all feedback on pacing.
Tomorrow, we’ll move for real into Step 4, and I’ll talk about splitting the HTML file into sections. Meanwhile, though, I’ve made an expanded illustration of Step 3, with appropriate attention given to the tasks we’ve walked through so far.
What do you think? How has the pacing been on each step? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @ybreview.
Download your free copy of The Yellow Buick Review today.
Ain’t she a beauty?
I’m still working on my backlog of tutorials, but since Yellow Buick Review is now accepting submissions, I figured I ought to make Volume I available. You can download it free from Bicycle Comics starting today. Once all the tutorials are up, I’ll also list it on the official stores for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo.
The Yellow Buick Review is the world’s least-prestigious, most-helpful literary magazine. The poems are total nonsense, the formatting is solid, and the code is open-source for all to see, critique, and adapt.
Download your free copy of The Yellow Buick Review, take it for a spin, and pop the hood to see how it all works. I’d love to know what you think.
Yellow Buick Review by yellowbuickreview.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Long before you dive into InDesign, Dreamweaver, or an HTML tool, you want a clean text file.
Really, you do. In fact, you can even forgo Microsoft Word for the first part of this step, if you like. Strip out things such as tabs, funky fonts, charts, and clip art (ew). Make your manuscript painfully simple, and you’ll reap many rewards further on. Look how boring the original MS Word document is for Yellow Buick Review:
Fear not; the E-book will be much prettier.
We call this the “steamed rice” version. It’s plain, it’s readily digestible, it’s unlikely to cause problems. Terribly bland, though, right? That’s fine. Steamed rice provides the foundation for all the spicy, yummy stuff you’ll be cooking up. Best learn this point early: Don’t bother making your poems beautiful in MS Word. You’ll make them look beautiful later, after you’ve made them look clean.
What does clean mean? For our anthologies, it means:
- A “big” font in a universal typeface. Think 16pt Times New Roman or 14pt Helvetica. If there’s an extra space or a missing period, you’ll want to notice it.
- Smart quotes, as in “sixes and nines.”
- Real dashes, as in “—” or option-shift-hyphen on a Macintosh.
- No soft returns. A soft return is a shift-return. Poets use them all the time for enjambed lines, but they are poison to poetry E-books.
Here is a soft return. Find them. Delete them.
- One space after periods. Typewriters are long gone, my friend.
- Elipses … instead of … (Can’t tell the difference? Try highlighting them with your mouse.)
- No tabs, no spaces. You’ll make indents later, with styles.
- Absolutely no handwriting, illustrations, or funky fonts. Fractions and footnotes should look boring: 1/4, 3rd prize, etc. You can use âçcént marks and basic symbols such as £ or π, but beware anything outré. A good rule? “If you have to look up how to type it, don’t bother.”
- (Optional) Italics and boldfaced words. I’m really torn on this one. If it were truly up to me, I would avoid them in MS Word, and add them at the very end with character styles. However, this stage is often where we do the most E-mail proofreads and edits with our contributing poets, and many of them must see their emphasized words.
Everything Bicycle Comics has learned about formatting poetry anthologies for Kindle and Kobo.
From MS Word to Kindle in six steps!
There it is. Depending on where you are in your publishing journey, that workflow looks beautifully simple or laughably Byzantine. Don’t worry; I’ll walk you through each of these steps in future blog posts. But big-picture, here is how we move an anthology from manuscript into Kindle and Kobo.
- Paste and proofread all the poems as plain text. We remove nearly all formatting from the poems. The document should look like (or actually be) a text file. Here we can check spelling and discuss proofreading/editorial changes with poets via E-mail. The entire interior of the book is in one whopping-huge Word document.
- Lightly format the book in Microsoft Word. We add basic structure to the book. If it can’t be done via the Style menu, then we probably won’t do it. We try to have all of our content debates now, because after this step, our book “forks” into two paths: one set of files goes to InDesign for our paperback edition, and one set of files goes to Dreamweaver for our E-book. If we make a change now, we make it one time. If we make a change later, we’ll need to make it twice.
- Save the document as HTML + CSS. We tell MS Word to export our document as HTML, and then we use Adobe Dreamweaver to tidy up the resulting code. We also pull all styling of the document into an external style sheet. If you’re coming from a traditional publishing background (QuarkXPress, InDesign, PageMaker), this step will seem the most foreign and tedious. I’ll talk you through it!
- Separate the HTML into chapters. We split our one huge interior HTML file into several smaller HTML files. For the most part, we split at chapters; each month of our Tandem anthologies is one chapter. Our table of contents, foreword, and contributor biographies become additional “chapters.” For the most part, we try to have all our chapters use the same, external cascading style sheet, but we’re open to adding one or two mini .css files if we really need them.
- Place the HTML and CSS files into an EPUB. We’ve been using Sigil, a free, open-source EPUB editor. Sigil wrangles together our HTML/CSS files, plus any images or media files we’ll be using. Sigil also helps us make a Table of Contents. Once we’re happy with our Sigil EPUB, we’re ready to publish on Kobo, Nook, and Google Play Books!
- Create a MOBI and/or KF8 book with Amazon Kindle Previewer. We use the free Kindle Previewer program to translate our EPUB into Amazon’s specialized Kindle format(s).
On a tight budget? Bicycle Comics uses both commercial and free software to make our poetry E-books. In subsequent posts, I’ll offer advice on how to work through each step using low-cost substitutes for some of the expensive programs.