by David Bergsland (@DavidBergsland)
David, a self-published author, book designer and indie type designer last appeared on the blog in August, 2011 when he wrote Authors: Why You Should be Writing in Adobe InDesign. David has been working with the new Kindle Fire and KF8 software and I asked him to give us an idea of what this combination can do, and whether it’s going to change our ebooks for the better. Here’s his report.
One of the largest problems for both the reader and the book designer when dealing with Kindle books has been the extremely limited typography available in the original Kindles and the mobi format in general. It’s not too bad for novels, but for non-fiction and complex discussions of specific procedures it was painful.
This is one of the reasons that ePUB gained so much prominence. Of course, for book designers, even the ePUB is very limited. After all, both of these formats are basically simple, very long, single-column Web pages. Gag!
But the world of Web design was radically changed a few years back with Cascading Style Sheets [CSS]. With CSS careful coders could construct rules for formatting the copy within a Website. In book designer terminology, CSS is a set of paragraph and character styles which is attached to a Website (or Web page) to tell a browser how to format the copy on that site or page.
The good news is that coding is no longer required
For most of us, coding is beyond our interest or capabilities. Being forced to hand-code Kindle books has led to some horribly designed books. Now many people on this blog and elsewhere say that you can still not produce a professional Kindle book without getting into the code. Balderdash! The purpose of this article is to show you what you can do without coding.
Living as a code-challenged author in a code-driven world: Though it is true (at this point in the development of design software for the production of ebooks) that the direct editing of the underlying code of your Kindle book gives you options available in no other way, these options are rarely necessary.
Please, let me rephrase that mouthful. There is currently no WYSIWYG software available where you can design and format your Kindle book. Simple things like complex custom text wrapping are not possible. BUT! All of the basics are easily available.
It always comes back to paragraph styles
Here’s a definition: A paragraph style is a collection of settings which control the formatting of a paragraph which can be applied with a keyboard shortcut or click of the mouse. This style allows you to save your choices for all the options available in paragraph formatting in your design application—be that Word, Quark, or InDesign.
Now there are some real limitations and complications with Word (much like the old CorelDraw, Word tends to add non-standard code and proprietary terminology). Quark is reduced to a bad memory for most of us. So, I will be talking about assembling these styles in InDesign.
Excellent typography can be directly exported from InDesign as a Kindle book
It goes far beyond what is possible in a single blog posting to give you all of things necessary to produce this typography. I had to squeeze things to get this information into a 350-page book [which I just released called Writing In InDesign Second Edition]. But I can give you a list of things you can currently export directly from InDesign 5.5 in your KF8 Kindle book for the Kindle Fire. The Kindle plug-in for CS6 has not been released yet.
- You can embed fonts: Before you get too excited, getting a license to use a font in a Kindle book is not easy and rarely found. But this problem will be solved soon. [As a font designer myself, this is great news.]
- You are no longer limited to H1–H6 and p for paragraph styles: These seven options were the original limitation to HTML (the basic code of the Web). CSS enables an unlimited number of paragraph styles.
- You can control all of the basics of CSS: fonts and font styles, point size, leading (line spacing), alignment, indents (left, right, and first line indent), and paragraph spacing (space before and after paragraphs).
- Drop Caps: These work well but I haven’t pushed the envelope.
- Character styles applied by hand: Automatic nested styles do not work as far as I can tell. Hopefully they will for the CS6 plug-in.
- Numbered and bulleted lists: These work well, but I’ve had a lot of trouble with restarting the numbers in numbered lists.
- Nested tables and merged cells: I haven’t tried nested tables yet but merged cells work fine. Tables work fairly well now. But gradients are dropped.
Supported by KF8 but not exportable from CS5.5:
- Floating elements with boxed text, callouts,sidebars, and images with simple text wrapping: This has quite a way to go for ePUB export and the 5.5 Kindle plug-in does not support this at all.
- Rounded corner for boxed elements and dropped shadows: This has quite a way to go for ePUB export and the 5.5 Kindle plug-in does not support this at all.
- Background images on pages and text; multiple and repeated background images
- Color gradients
- Outline text
- Scalable Vector Graphics [SVG]: These are not supported by InDesign or Dreamweaver as far as I know.
Hopefully many of these items will be greatly improved with the CS6 plug-in from Amazon. But there is much more. One of the best resources is Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Guidelines PDF. You can also go to their Website: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin
KF8 offers typography as good or better than ePUB
As you can see there is a radical change for KF8, the new format to support the Kindle Fire. More than that, Amazon has promised to quickly support KF8 for their apps on the Mac, PC, iPad, Android, and so on. I am really looking forward to that as I do much of my reading on the Kindle app for the new iPad.
The only thing we know for sure is that ebooks will keep getting better—much more quickly than we thought possible. Try to remember how many ebooks you read five years ago.
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.
Blog header photo by kodomut