It constantly amazes me, this ability the human brain has to make choices – and the vast number of them available to those of us in the developed world.
Professional cover designer Dane Low put up a video of the process of creating a cookbook cover over on Joel Friedlander’s blog today. A billion choices out of a sea of images.
Mine wasn’t that elaborate, and yet it took me three months (and I promise to show it first here when I’m a bit closer to publication – one wants to save the Ta Das! for when they will do some marketing good).
I had several goals for the interior formatting of my first book, Pride’s Children:
- I wanted to make it as simple as possible to do updates – like fix typos.
- I wanted to avoid as much hand-coding as possible – because that always takes a lot of time, and sometimes that effort makes me settle for less than I really want. Plus it’s a really great way to introduce typos.
- I did NOT want to spend a lot of time doing the things Jaye Manus recommends on her blog for writers who work with Word (sorry, Jaye!), as I’d long ago tired of using Word for writing fiction and keeping it looking good, even though I’ve mastered styles, and have used them successfully before to make the manuscript look the way I wanted it to. Note: I still use Word all the time for other stuff, like letters.
- I wanted to set up a uniform look for the two other books of the Pride’s Children trilogy.
- I wanted to make the READING experience as transparent as possible for the reader, so I don’t want anything that might get in the way of a reader choosing her font, or font sizes, or other text-flow options.
- I wanted it to look, as much as possible, like a ‘real’ (ie, ‘printed’) book. You know, like the old ones on my bookshelves?
- I wanted typographical niceties: indented quotes set in a slightly smaller type-size, navigational headings, ALL CAPS and no indent to start paragraphs, a decent table of contents.
- And I wanted it to be a good model for the eventual printed version, not a completely different animal.
In other words, my standards have been set by all the books I’ve read in my lifetime, and I want all those features in my books.
Scrivener to the rescue
When I bought Scrivener (several years ago now – where DOES the time go?), I did it partly because of its ability to create an ebook from your text in both .epub and .mobi formats – regardless of how you typed the stuff in.
A look through my source files in my .scriv project file shows a shocking number of different formats. It would have taken me either a lot of paying attention to keep it looking uniform as I wrote in Word, or a lot of processing at the end – a word-processing file per chapter seemed as much as I could manage at a time, and combining files to make a whole book is WORK in Word.
None of this is to say anything at all about other writers’ workflow or software choices.
But with my usually fogged CFS brain, the command to self to KISS was imperative: I can focus on things intensely for a while sometimes, but don’t do nearly as well when I have to keep it up over months and years.
So. I’ve spent the last two weeks learning Compile in Scrivener (the word they’ve selected to mean: put all this junk together into a unified document), feeding it my text, and adjusting the Compile options until it looked the way I wanted it to.
I have it down to the target: I choose Compile, click ONE button, and I have a new ebook instantly, which will open properly in my Kindle viewers or Adobe Digital Editions, and complains not at all when I make it reformat the whole thing for one tiny change. Three chapters takes under 5 SECONDS.
Yesterday, I repeated the process over THIRTY times. It took longer to VIEW my results than to create them, a very welcome reversal of the usual way it goes.
Post-production – refining after using Scrivener
I worked hard at it – you should see my marked-up copy of the Scrivener manual!
But I managed to set up the formatting in all but ONE detail to be automatic. That detail is the RIGHT INDENT.
I want to use right indents paired with left indents to set off sections of the text (a movie, an email, a quotation used for an epigraph). Scrivener (and, to be fair, the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines) does not support a right indent. Per se.
But it occurred to me that changing the MARGIN settings for indented paragraphs (as long as the change is relative from the margins, in ems, and not a hard-coded number such as 0.5″) would serve just fine.
So I set up Scrivener to create paragraph types with LEFT INDENTS.
NOTE: the above sample does NOT show this post-processing step; this is what it looks like straight out of Scrivener.
HTML, CSS, and formatting for ebooks – easy version
I had no real desire to learn HTML, and had no idea what a CSS (cascading style sheet) was, but I plunged into Paul Salvette’s book on formatting (The eBook Design and Development Guide) and Ed Ditto’s (How to format…for Kindle…in one afternoon), both of which I bought ages ago and hadn’t even opened, because I knew this day was coming.
That plus myriad other sources taught me just enough to be
dangerous adventurous enough to get the free Mac text editor TextWrangler, and actually look into the files generated by Scrivener, to see if I could find the needed modification
To do this you first Unzip the .epub file (I used a tiny Applescript program ePub Zip/Unzip 3.0 I found online at nyu.edu here from instructor Fred Chasen – anything you have will work as well, I’m sure, but the web makes it appear you need to spend big bucks to get something to unzip and zip your epub files, and you don’t.)
* * * * * * * * * * *
WARNING – It would have saved me a LOT of time had I known the following:
You can examine the files packaged into an .epub, but not into a .mobi produced by Kindlegen.
* * * * * * * * * * *
IN the CSS files, which are quite clean (to my uneducated eye – they didn’t look THAT different to what Paul so carefully constructs in his book), I found the line showing the LEFT INDENT (as a LEFT MARGIN setting ALREADY!), and merely duplicated the number into the slot for the RIGHT MARGIN, replacing the 0.0 that was already there, marking the space for me, and that was my only change (so far).
Put the changed CSS file(s) back into the .epub bundle (ePub Zip/Unzip again – give it the folder, it produces the epub and vice versa), and you are back to where you started, but now the CSS files have the right AND left margins set for those indented paragraphs! And in a way (I think/hope) that will not affect your Kindle and Nook experiences.
I haven’t gotten so far as to test these things on actual ereaders, because that requires the additional step of sideloading the .epub or .mobi files into the devices, which I know how to do, but is not a step you want to do over and over while chasing formatting changes.
IF I have problems after the extensive testing required, I will update this post or write another.
Fortunately, this didn’t turn out to actually matter, because, once you have the .epub file doing what you want, you just DRAG IT INTO KINDLEGEN, and Kindlegen turns a perfectly good .epub into a proprietary format which currently packages TWO kinds of Kindle ebooks, one for the newer Fire models (using the latest bells and whistles) plus one for the older models), with absolutely NO effort from you.
I work exclusively on the Mac, and had to start up Terminal, drag Kindlegen’s icon into Terminal, drag the .epub file into Terminal, and voilà, almost instantly a file appears with the same name as the .epub file, but with a .mobi extension, and YOU ARE COMPLETELY DONE.
So, another success for the one-click approach to ebook changes.
And that’s how the rabbit got IN the hat
Note that the file above is NOT EDITED; I just threw in the same beginning of Chapter 1 as is currently on the blog. There are minor formatting changes I’m going to do to it (mostly, reduced the number of sections set in italics, to go with what I have in the later chapters – which were revised more recently).
Comments very welcome on suggested changes, impressions of the results, anything you can think of – I’m getting closer, and the decisions’ surrounding concrete is starting to set. Specific question: I use bold in this version in the SCENE HEADINGS – is it helpful – or annoying?
I can still fix things later (isn’t the modern world fabulous?), but I’d like to go to press (hehe) with as many things finalized as I possibly can AHEAD OF TIME.
And no, I didn’t intend to write such a long post this morning, but it seemed necessary to share the process, which had a few fillips different from what I’ve seen – and gives me a very quick way to change things from now on (IF I actually know what I’m doing). I’ve been VERY busy learning, but didn’t have much new to say until I finished!