What lessons can YBR take from the Books in Browsers talks?
Books in Browsers is a two-day, annual conference exploring trends in digital publishing, E-books, and the role of “books” in a world where content is increasingly digitized and re-mixed (1). I went to Books in Browsers 2014 with three questions:
- How are people formatting E-books these days?
- Do the formatting requirements of publishers and platforms affect the way writers write?
- Does innovation matter when Amazon controls 70% of the E-book market?
Everyone comes to conferences with his or her own agenda, and mine, of course, was poetry. Not everyone shared my central organizing thought:
Here are my notes on the talks, more for my own future reference than for anything else. Just about all of the lectures are available on YouTube, thanks to Publishing Perspectives, and those are presented, naturally, without the tint of my own personal curiosities and viewpoints. Continue reading
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.
We’re here! Which is to say, we’re done with Microsoft Word, and we can now start doing stuff directly related to making E-books for EPUB and Kindle.
If you’re an old pro text editor who skipped the first four tutorials because they were too Word-y, welcome back! I’ll ask your indulgence for just one more paragraph:
Word people, now that you’ve used Microsoft Word’s Styles to define all parts of your document, now that you’ve proofread it, now that you’ve sent drafts out to your contributing poets for their input, all you need to do to join us in Web world is save your Word document as .html. Go to the File menu, select Save As, and then select “Format: Web Page (.htm)” and select “Save only display information into HTML.” Give your file a name without spaces, such as “YBR_MSWord_Style_Formatted.htm.”
That’s it! Done with Microsoft Word. Now you’ve got ONE .htm file. Continue reading
Some book designers don’t know what CSS stands for. That might actually be a good thing.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet. It’s basically a dress code for your website or your E-book. “Business casual! Serifs optional!” The E-books at Bicycle Comics have had two or three Cascading Style Sheets inside them. “Cascading” means that the different style sheets know which one to listen to if the instructions conflict. (If the company picnic is “T-shirts and jeans,” but your boss tells you “Dockers and polo shirts” then you’ll probably wear Dockers and a polo shirt.)
The thing is, the term “style sheet” far predates Web pages and E-books. Traditional book and magazine publishers have used style sheets for decades, to define a standard look and feel for all the different editors and designers. Stories in The New Yorker famously have three columns of text per page. The front cover of Time always has a red border. Apple Computer wrote all their user manuals in Garamond back in the 1990s. These consistent presentations resulted from the use of company-wide style sheets. Continue reading
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.