Exotic Ebook Formatting

Jan 16, 2015 | The Publishing Industry

You may have noticed that I finally got my act together and cleaned up the website. My friend Fay was nice enough to lend me one of her themes! I did some edits on it, and I think it came out okay. Being a web designer, my site is always a work in progress.

Anyway – today I’d like to talk about something vaguely related to this – exotic ebook formatting. You can do so much with an ebook! It’s not just limited to chapters, table of contents, that kind of thing. There’s a whole world of things you can add – though it’s really not for the faint-hearted, because this stuff is very temperamental.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do with an ebook is make it look consistent. Does that sound odd? The big problem is making the Kindle version look like the epub look like the PDF or whatever other format you choose. Bonus points if you need to also make it look as close to the print version as possible, and believe me, that’s a whole other level of tricky!

I’ve found that, like I’ve said before, Scrivener can’t handle exotic ebook formatting. It produces an ebook that’s got line by line formatting, and this means the file isn’t always internally consistent, never mind consistent across different devices. The solution? Sigil, and format control using stylesheets.

Fine-grained control is mandatory if you really want to knock it out of the park. Adding custom fonts, for example, is really easy in Sigil, because they’re embedded like you’d do on a webpage and the font styles are applied using CSS classes. In Scrivener, you just can’t apply styles using classes. Likewise with tables – I spent hours chasing my tail in Scrivener, trying to make it understand how I wanted it to handle tabular data, only to swap to Sigil and have it work out of the box.

Images! Good grief, adding images is painful sometimes. It’s not so much adding them – it’s getting them to show up in a reflowable way that adjusts them to the screen size. There’s a reason why comics are not turned into ebooks, and it’s all to do with comics just… not being all that adjustable the way that text is.

And then we get into encoding errors…

Not gonna lie, I could write a book (hah!) on how to format a book. Authors, take note – if you want something really interesting in your ebook, then a real formatting expert is worth their weight in gold. If you ever want to distinguish such an expert from someone who’s just using an automated process, then ask them what tools they use to create the ebook!

Readers, if you find something odd in an ebook… don’t be mad! Tell the author or the publisher, but it might not be something they can fix at the drop of a hat. It may not be anything they can fix at all. It might not be something they’re even aware of, if they couldn’t check the formatting on a device like yours.