By David Kudler
It’s ebook time again!
This time, we’re going to look at how to use the information and skills I’ve been giving you to make your ebook look the way you want it to.
At this point you’ve:
- decided to create your own ebook, rather than have someone else do it for you
- cleaned up the text and optimized the images
- converted your manuscript using an online service or used an app
- have yourself an ePub file, ready for sale
Only probably not. Almost always, errors pop up in formatting, or you need to add or edit hyperlinks, or you need to edit the book, but don’t want to go though the whole export/conversion hassle again.
If you’re working with a piece of fairly straightforward text and don’t want to worry about adding fine points of formatting, you may be all right using the ebook your app/service created for you.
If, however, you want to get under the proverbial hood and fine-tune what the app hath wrought, then you’re going to need to edit the ebook.
How to make up your mind
Which option should you take?
The only way to decide this question is to look at your newly minted ebook on a variety of ereaders.
No. Not just one. A number.
Now, I know that not everyone has a collection like I do. Still, living in the twenty-first century, you almost certainly have at least two pieces of ereader hardware available to you:
- The computer you’re reading this on
- Your phone
What, you didn’t think your phone was a computer? Believe me, today’s iPhones and Galaxies are far more powerful than the mainframe “supercomputers” I was first introduced to back in the 1980s.
You may also have a tablet around (possibly even an ereader table like a Nook or Kobo or Kindle Fire) or a second computer — possibly running a different operating system, or a different version of the same OS?
In any case, there are a huge variety of free apps available — whether your “computer” runs Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, or some other, more exotic variant.
Install at least a few of the following free apps on each piece of hardware:
- Calibre (Linux, macOS, Windows)
- Kindle Previewer (macOS, Windows)
- Adobe Digital Editions (macOS, Windows — the basis for many ereader apps)
- At least a couple of the following:
There are hundreds of other options available — and that’s not even including the actual ereader hardware you may have hanging around!
In each ereader, open the file. If there’s a “default” display available, make sure that’s what you’re looking at — most readers don’t know they can change the settings — though some certainly do! Remember: miniscule purple Zapfino on an orange background. :shudder:
For each ereader, ask yourself:
- How does the text look on the screen — big, small, too much white space, not enough?
- How do the images look — same questions as with text, but also, are you happy with the way the text and images flow together, and are they consistent across platforms?
- How do typeface/fonts display — are they the ones you wanted?
- If you’ve got any formatting complexities (e.g., drop caps, tables, inset images, etc.) do they look good?
Repeat this exercise on as many different ereaders as you can stand.
Are you happy with how the ebook looks on all or most?
If so, great! Validate your ebook, upload it, and get ready to sell!
If not… time to pop the hood. Get your overalls on and your grease gun out; we’re going to edit.
Under the hood
There are basically two ways to do get your ebook looking and working the way you want it to:
- Open up the file (as I showed you in “Inside the Black Box”) and use a text-editor like TextEdit or Notepad or a dedicated HTML editor like Dreamweaver.
- Use a WYSIWYG ebook editor.
Personally, while I don’t mind working on raw HTML and such without visual feedback, it’s nice to see how changes are going to look as you’re making them. So What You See Is (more or less) What You Get it is for me!
There are a number of WYSIWYG apps that you can use to edit your ePub file without opening it up:
- Open source (free):
- Calibre (and you already have it!)
- Blue Griffon
- Many more
I have been using Sigil for many years, and am very happy with it, but you should find whichever solution works best for you.
That said, in the following examples, I’m going to be using Sigil. For the most part, you should be able to follow along whatever editing app you’re using.
Beating serifs into plowshares — cleaning up the text
So, be honest: how did the text look on the various ereaders?
If you need to do some clean-up, find the CSS stylesheet(s). In Sigil, look in the /Styles folder for one or more files ending in the extension .css. Hopefully, all of the body text will be defined as a single class (e.g., Body-Text, as I called it in my sample ebook White Robes) or they’re all simply plain <p> tags — no class attribute, and no ID. Likewise, hopefully the chapter headers are all the same, and the images are likewise given only a few identifiers.
More likely, the software that created the ePub file added a passel of extra classifications — as many as one for each instance of an element, so that no two paragraphs/images/whatever are styled the same. This will mean that any clean up is going to need to start in the stylesheet.
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