by David Bergsland (@DavidBergsland)
David Bergsland’s last post here was Typography in Kindle? Yes We Can! Today he addresses the current state of ebook conversion with popular tools for designers.
Here we are—well into the second decade of the new millennium and we now have a new method of publishing which truly helps individuals share what they have learned with readers who want the knowledge. The new changes are almost designed for those of us who feel called to share our vision with our trainees, students, and sheep. The new methodologies work better for teachers and leaders in small unique niches than anyone else.
But who cares about books?
That’s printed books: Yup! They are still an essential part of the mix unless your sole focus is on novels. In most cases, the printed version will still be at least half of sales. Even then readers assume there is a print version available. You should release the printed version on CreateSpace before you release the Kindle KDP (especially if you are going to use KDP Select).
If your readers want a copy for their library, digital storage is very unsatisfactory and unreliable. They will buy the print version. Also, you never know if your ebook will still read well in your new ereader. For many reasons, you should always start your design as a printed book. The main reason can be seen in the following subhead.
Print to ebook conversions work, the reverse do not
What many do not realize is the high quality requirements of printed materials. For example, books are printed at 600 dots per inch (dpi) at even the very worst level of cheap copying. Low quality quick print from places like Kinko’s or any of the thousands of quickprinters usually print at 1200 dpi. Commercial printers image at 2400 dpi or more. Like the Web, ebooks are stuck at 72 dpi—and worse yet, 600 dpi wide.
High quality images
Print quality normally cannot even handle the image degradation of the JPEG format. It is possible to make printing-quality 300 dpi JPEGs (as you can see in the bottom half below), but they are very rare. Most of the 72 dpi images are disasters with massive artifacts around all the contrast edges.
As you can see on top above, the edges of the rose petals are very chewed up. Under close examination, the damage is severe. This really makes a difference in print, but in an ebook they actually look fairly similar (unless you are exaggerating for effect like I just did).
In fact, for books, you should really be using vector images (done with outlines). These are images created with Illustrator or InDesign: PDFs—without any photos or scans. They always print at the highest resolution possible. However, there is no vector format accepted by an ebook—except in theory.
They are all written in XHTML and CSS which require Web-quality graphics—GIFs, JPEGs, and the occasional PNG at 72 dpi and a maximum of 600 pixels wide.
Vector graphics, like SVG images, are only supported by Adobe as an export from Illustrator. No app I know of can import them or add them to the code even though XHTML and CSS2 supposedly support them. It takes professional-level coding skills to add them, at this point. As a result, ebook graphics are really very low in quality. Plus, 600 pixels doesn’t give you much room for any detail.
Print quality can be lowered to ebook quality easily
This is the bottomline reason for starting with print. For images, there is barely a theoretical way to raise the quality of ebook images to print quality (using SVGs). But this is the least of our problems. For reading, especially non-fiction, readers have come to expect sidebars, boxed copy, drop caps, multiple columns, and so on. Almost none of this works in an ebook.
Mainly you must get used to the fact that ebooks are single-column formatting of one single long story. In Web terms, copy must be in a div. It is possible to add floating divs within the copy but only by hand-coding them with percentage widths and locations.
Here’s a list of things not available to ebooks
- Sidebars and multiple columns: These are not possible for ebooks (unless you are a coding whiz). They probably never will be until all ereaders are at least as capable as the 3rd iPad with its Retina Display.
- Small caps, oldstyle figures, small cap figures, ligatures, or any of the other easily usable OpenType features: Print supports all of these. No ereader does yet, though CSS2 supports several of them: like true small caps.
- Floating graphics with text wrap: This can be done in an ebook with careful hand-coding, but not really.
- Embedded fonts: Complex font control is normal for print. Only Kindle KF8 files will do it now in an ebook, and the fonts can only be seen on the Fire. The silliness of not adding this to the iPad and OS Kindle readers is beyond me.
- Anchored objects with captions: These are objects that are attached to the type and move with it. These are easy in InDesign; but ebooks can not use them unless you get into the code. Even then you are very limited.
- Lists: These now work fairly well, but normal things like right aligned numbers and using graphics as bullets are not possible. In fact, because embedded fonts are not supported you can normally not even use graphic bullets from a dingbat font.
- Tables: InDesign now does a reasonable job of exporting readable tables, but the formatting options are still quite limited and inline graphics usually do not work.
- Paragraph rules: these do not work unless you add hand-coded divs and gradient rules are not possible except as separate graphics added before or after a paragraph.
- Fancy or graphic drop caps: Simple drop caps sort of work in ebooks, but the fancier versions with swash letters or inline graphics simply are not possible.
Authors & designers do not code
I know I will get many flaming comments when I post this, but it is the simple truth. In most cases, creative people have a really hard time with coding—even code as simple as XHTML and CSS. Even if they can code (like me) they hate it and avoid it rigorously except for last resort emergencies—for me it must be to solve something that is necessary but not working.
So, we need a WYSIWYG solution for ebook design: the only place to find that on a professional level is InDesign. If you are putting your print designs together everything should already be formatted in InDesign CS6 (yes, CS6 is necessary). From there the conversion can be very easy if you set it up right.
I hear your argument for iBook Author, but Pages really does not have professional formatting capabilities. It’s barely even with Word and that is disastrous when you are formatting several hundred pages by shortcut. I suspect Quark has something, but I repented of that software for Y2K.
I know many ebooks are put together by coders, but for print they have to go to InDesign eventually. If they started with the ebooks, they then have to start over. If they started with InDesign, all that’s needed is a simple redefinition of the paragraph, character, object, and table styles.
Of course, you’ll need to practice with your print setup to make it convert that easily, but that is not difficult and you’ll see wonderful production speed benefits once you get your styles set up.
With InDesign CS6, the Kindle Export plug-in is good
For CS5.5, Amazon’s free plug-in was pretty crude. This time around, it works quite well. Plus it will embed fonts for KF8 in Fire. With the licensing problems, you may not be able to do that. But I’m a font designer, so it’s wonderful for me and very easy. All you need to do is copy the book for print and paste it into a Kindle-sized template.
You’ll have to swap JPEGs for PSDs. You’ll need to rasterize PDF graphics into JPEGs. You’ll usually want to make your graphics 600 dpi wide. You’ll also want to add all relevant links reader and Web use.
HINT! The only hitch is that the Kindle export plug-in will not convert nested styles. So, you need to hand format those with character styles. Knowing that this was coming, you probably already did it this way for the print version.
CS6’s ePUB export is also quite good now
Once it is exported as KF8, the same document can be exported as an ePUB.
You’ll want to be sure you set up your Edit All Export Tags dialog and your TOC. The coders will scream bloody murder, but on a practical level the result is definitely usable. Lists, tables, paragraph and character styles all transfer very well.
I’ve detailed the setups I use in Writing In InDesign Revised Edition 2.5 book and in the InDesign eBook Conversions booklet if you need that level of help.
The ereaders are so limited that these ePUBs are more than good enough for Nook, Kobo, and iBooks. If you have few enough graphics you can even export a text only file to be crammed into Word and then Smashwords (but only very simple books will take that level of abuse).
HINT! The fly in the ointment is iBooks through Lulu. They cannot take any links and Lulu/Apple has added some ridiculous hoops to jump through. I keep trying, but it’s not a good situation. It’s sad. Lulu used to be my best distributor after Amazon.
David Bergsland‘s passion is typography, page layout, and book design. He’s written seven books published by others and helped with a few more. Since early in the millennium, he’s published dozens of books and booklets—his best-seller is self-published on-demand: Practical Font Design, now offered by FontLab in some of their bundles. He was on the original team with InDesign 1 and has written many books and booklets on how to use InDesign effectively. After beginning to write full-time in 2009, he has become even more enamored of the page layout tool, doing all of his writing within the app. David lives in southern Minnesota in a small town with his Pastor wife and near his daughter and four grandchildren.