This post may end up being more of a rant than normal. My apologies in advance.
Formatting an ebook is one of the most enjoyable yet simultaneously one of the most frustrating experiences. I love the feedback I get from happy authors who are pleased with the final result. At the same time, there are so many small details that must be addressed, in search of the “perfect” ebook format. I’ve outlined them below, according to outlet.
Formatting an ebook for iTunes/Apple:
Doesn’t play well with others. Exports from Pages look BEAUTIFUL on iPad and iPhone but look like total crap on any other device. Hello?! Apple does not build apps that work well on other platforms…period. Yes, you can export from Pages to ePub…but if you want to work with any other outlet besides iTunes, you will need to do extensive “under the hood” coding.
Embedded fonts: yes, possible with the addition of an extra file that indicates that embedded fonts are to be used (if you’re declaring fonts in your CSS and then calling them within the CSS, why in the world should an extra file be required??). This file is the same one as is used for fixed format layouts. Now, if you want to specify fonts that the iPad has pre-installed, you have to get REALLY creative. Specifying fonts will not work within paragraph or span classes. If you want to be specific about the font, you need to use a samp tag.
Dumb use of hyphenation – which a reader can turn on/off universally in the Settings section, OR a smart coder can tweak in the code (I addressed this here: http://ebookconverting.com/eliminating-hyphenated-headers-on-ibooks).
Will pull your products from the iBookstore if you advertise that your other books are available anywhere else but iTunes – even if it’s just for sales on your own website.
I am sure there’s more….but I can’t wait to get to my next victim: Nook.
Formatting for Nook
Nook runs on an Adobe Digital Editions, which has become an antiquated pile of junk. Feel free to disagree with me, many people actually like it. My main frustration with Nook and ADE is that it shows images at their actual size. This doesn’t sound like a problem, until you think about all the screen sizes that are now available, with additional screen sizes in development…and who knows what size they’ll be. In the past, it was possible to set max image width at 520 px and height at 660 px and be fairly confident that it would look nice on the screen. Now, the outlets are requesting insanely large image sizes (think “retina display”) AND the screens themselves are larger, PLUS people are still reading books on their desktops and laptops. How do you maximize for that? Other outlets have set a default max-height and max-width to 100%, so you just plop an image in there and they’ll resize so the image fits the screen without going over. BUT NOOK keeps the image size the same, regardless of screen size (and you can’t use standard CSS to specify a max height or max width). That’s just dumb. Now, if you have a “large” image size, you have to specify either width=”100%” or height=”100%”.
Having an image size default to max height and max width at 100% would be an awesome tweak, Nook and ADE. Get with the program.
Children’s books are a bear on the Nook. They have a really cool children’s book proprietary format, including their “read aloud” feature, but as of right now, only the big publishers are able to use it. If you’re using PubIt to deliver ebooks to Nook, you are not allowed to use their special children’s book format. Add insult to injury: Nook doesn’t have any specs for children’s books besides their proprietary format…which they’re not sharing. This is a huge issue – it requires hours & hours of development time to figure out exactly how the book is showing up on an actual device. And even then, it doesn’t look nearly as cool as the ones big publishers are able to make. Fair? Heck, NO!
Formatting mobi for Amazon/Kindle
Kindle Previewer just released a new version. Oh, please, Kindle, won’t you be consistent?! I love you lots, but you could be so much easier. Ok, so here’s the deal: Kindle Fire (original and HD) is the BEST Kindle format that has been released, bar none. Kindle Paperwhite is a close second. These 2 formats are as close to ePub as you can get. Enter iOS – and a very different format emerges. In other words, what you see on Kindle Previewer for Kindle Fire is VERY different from what you’ll see on Kindle for iPad/iPhone. And hugely different from the original Kindle format. Significantly different from Look Inside on Amazon’s website (which doesn’t look like ANY other format). My problem with this is – how do you code for that? If it’s possible to code bells & whistles on Kindle Fire, but the file bombs on iPad, then you have to go back to something that’s simple enough to work on iPad too. You effectively lose any advantage that Kindle Fire offers because you have to use the least common denominator. AND if Look Inside looks like crap, who’s going to want to read the book anyway?
AMAZON, major issue here. If you’re going to let people purchase Kindle Fire books, they need to AT LEAST be compatible with the devices that you’ve said are Kindle Fire compatible. They should look the same on Kindle Fire vs. iOS vs. Look Inside vs. Paperwhite. Consistency is key.
Things that don’t work well on ANY device:
Drop caps. Kindle doesn’t handle line spacing well for drop caps at all. iPad and iPhone display them differently, even though it’s the same coding. I’ve dropped this from all my ebooks. Love it in print, not a fan for digital.
Large quote marks. This is a fun typographical tool, but it looks silly on ereaders. The line heights adjust according to the large quote sizes, making line height inconsistent. Not recommended.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple need to make the customer experience their first priority and make beating out their competitors a secondary goal. Having inconsistent formatting – even within one’s own set of devices – makes everyone look bad, from the ebook developer, to the author, to the sales outlet itself. The outlets would sell more books and have happier customers if they would pay better attention to the basics: a consistent, predictable reader experience.
The one good thing: many of these issues are new. Just like the weather in Oklahoma, if you don’t like it, just wait 15 minutes and it will change. I have full confidence that the issues we see today will be different from the issues that we see in 6 months.
So what about you? Are you seeing inconsistent formatting in ebooks…or even your own books? Frustrated yet? I feel your pain and would love to help you get the very best looking ebook possible – just let me know if I can help.