Tag Archives: kindle

Go Back to the EPUB and Check Who’s There

(Continued from earlier post)

4. Create a table of contents, again.

Wait, didn’t we already do that? Yes, but that was a HUMAN table of contents. We made it “by hand” and it both looks good and works well. However, most E-readers won’t specifically recognize that ToC as a ToC. So now, we need to make what’s called a “logical” ToC.

Aesthetic disclaimer: This technique kind of sucks. It comes into play because there are three (3!) different kinds of Tables of Contents for E-books.

  • Traditional Table of Contents: The thing you think we’re talking about? That’s what we’re talking about. This is a list of sections, or chapters, or poem titles, typed up by a human and positioned in the first few pages of a book (let’s not argue, now) so that people browsing the book can find out where to go.
  • A Logical or Metadata Table of Contents: This is a list in outline format that lists the contents of your book by header <hx> elements. It usually is not styled, typed, or formatted so much as it is generated by an E-book editor. This list is where people will go when they click on the “Table of Contents” button or menu option in their E-reader. It should go at the end of your E-book so it doesn’t clog up your frontmatter (which already has a ToC).
  • An NCX file. The NCX file is a series of bookmarks or milestones (EPUB 2.1 and Kindle .mobi) in an E-book that helps some readers on some devices jump around inside the book. For example, a proper NCX file will allow a reader to jump around in the E-book in exact, one-chapter increments. The NCX file is created automatically by an E-book editor.

Fortunately, our E-book editor Sigil will handle most of this for us. Continue reading

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The Poem? How Many Divisions Does it Have?

As I put the finishing touches on Yellow Buick Review No. 2, I take a minute to reflect on what has changed, for good and ill.

This tutorial is based on the first generation of HTML/CSS techniques we figured out (with plenty of help) for our poetry E-books and E-book anthologies. The first issue of Yellow Buick Review used those techniques. The commercial offerings at Bicycle Comics all use the first generation markup/code. It works, it looks good, it’s even elegant in the right light.

We have a second-generation set of techniques, though. Those are what I’ve been using on Yellow Buick Review No. 2. The biggest difference? YBR 2 uses the div element to structure each stanza of a poem.

(Update: We now have a third-generation set of markup techniques that use media queries to serve cascading style sheets appropriate to the device in use. Most of this post is now outdated, but I’ll leave it here as a marker of our thinking in mid-September, 2014.)

Here are two stanzas of a poem formatted using 1st Gen YBR markup:


<p class="PoemStanza">Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.</p>
<p class="PoemLine">Etiam id lacus ligula. Sed libero sem, ullamcorper</p>
<p class="PoemLine">Non pulvinar eget, ultricies eu felis.</p>
<p class="PoemStanzaIndent1">Etiam lacinia metus ligula, sed convallis turpis tristique eu.</p>
<p class="PoemLineIndent1">Nam in tortor dictum odio dapibus egestas.</p>
<p class="PoemLineIndent1">Nullam id odio ut ante lobortis sodales eget sed quam.</p>

Compare that with the same poem in 2nd Gen YBR markup:


<div class="PoemStanza">
<p class="PoemLine">Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. </p>
<p class="PoemLine">Etiam id lacus ligula. Sed libero sem, ullamcorper </p>
<p class="PoemLine">Non pulvinar eget, ultricies eu felis. </p>
</div>
<div class="PoemStanzaIndent1">
<p class="PoemLine">Etiam lacinia metus ligula, sed convallis turpis tristique eu.</p>
<p class="PoemLine">Nam in tortor dictum odio dapibus egestas. </p>
<p class="PoemLine">Nullam id odio ut ante lobortis sodales eget sed quam.</p>
</div>

The big difference? In 2nd Gen, each stanza gets wrapped in its own <div> tags. It is the <div>, not the <p>, that holds the margin-top attribute and value. 2nd Gen also uses percentages for most of its measurements, not em.

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Filed under Look and Feel, Testing and Uploading

Cleaning Your Manuscript: Think of Steamed Rice

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:

MS Word plain

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Smart quotes, as in “sixes and nines.”
  3. Real dashes, as in “—” or option-shift-hyphen on a Macintosh.
  4. 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.
  5. One space after periods. Typewriters are long gone, my friend.
  6. Elipses … instead of …  (Can’t tell the difference? Try highlighting them with your mouse.)
  7. No tabs, no spaces. You’ll make indents later, with styles.
  8. 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.”
  9. (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.

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Filed under Book vs. Ebook, Manuscript Preparation

Introducing the Yellow Buick Review

As we close the books on another National Poetry Month, why do so many poetry E-books read as if they’re stuck in 2008?

For years, Bicycle Comics published PDFs with big font sizes and told people these were E-books. And they were, but only kind of. So in August 2013, we got serious about E-books. We Googled far and wide for formatting advice. Most of it was prose-related. Much of it was outdated or wrong. None of it talked about formatting whole books of poetry, just single poems. Figuring out how to code an anthology took hours and hours of paintstaking, frustrating work, and we’re a publishing company! Our staff has something like 13 years of combined production experience at “Big Five” publishers. But it was so hard, that first E-book, that we almost gave up and went back to PDFs.

Fortunately, our hard work paid off.

As soon as the book launched, rabid poetry fans promptly flooded our Website. Our servers crashed as over 400 people queued up to download the book on our first weekend. It was free from our Website, but we still managed to sell nearly 40 copies at 99¢ on Amazon that first week to people who just couldn’t wait for our servers to reboot. Eight months later, it’s still the #1 bestseller in its niche. (We donate all proceeds to the poetry festival that spawned our anthology.)

Amazon Listing for Alight

Amazon Listing for Alight E-book, 8 months after its release.

Many factors, including luck, contributed to the success of Alight. One of those factors, though, was the quality of the formatting. It wasn’t perfect. We’d code it differently now. But we had the basics down correctly. Unlike a lot of poetry E-books, Alight had proper line breaks, cohesive stanzas, hanging indents, metadata, a clickable table of contents… it resembled a professional product. It looked decent on old and new devices, because we’d tested the heck out of it.

We’ve done two more E-books since Alight. We’ve got this formatting thing figured out. And we want to share it.

There are publishers, indie poets, and brilliant freelancers who have figured out this whole html/css thing for poetry. Some of them are better at it than we are. But none of them will open their books for all to see, because their business depends on selling those books! Same goes for us; for reasons both legal and financial, we can’t just stick Carrie Rudzinski’s new book online as a learning tool for coders and formatters. That’s where The Yellow Buick Review comes in. YB Review is a fake anthology. All the poems are gibberish “Greek text.” But they look real. They respond to style sheet changes just as real poems would. And with fake poems, all the ego and copyright issues fade to the background.

We’ll publish the first volume of the Yellow Buick Review this May. We don’t expect to make a dime off of it. We’re sure some formatters and purists will howl. We hope so; that’s how we’ll get better. And we need to get better—not just Bicycle Comics, but the whole industry. E-books aren’t going away. Neither is poetry. So it’s in everyone’s interest for this ancient art form to be effective on this new(ish) technology. 2015 will mark the eighth National Poetry Month in the era of Amazon Kindle. Let’s all be gloriously ready for it, okay?

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Filed under Book vs. Ebook, Publishing Industry