ebook formatting is a pain in the ass…

October 23, 2011 8:13pm
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This weekend I decided to take on the task of finally getting my book ready to publish on the Kindle (and Nook, etc…). And boy, did I not have the foggiest idea what I was getting myself into!

Although I’ve heard plenty of horror stories, I was kind of hoping that I’d be a step above the rest because my book is already laid out in Adobe Indesign, which is a fairly robust publishing app. I spent a lot of time toiling over Indesign last summer making sure that I got everything just right, and after using it for two books now, I figured I’d be pretty well-versed in how things are supposed to work.

Unfortunately, I’m finding that ebooks are really just a completely different ballgame, and anything I’ve learned thus far might as well pretty much be thrown out the window!

First and foremost, white space is a new monster in ebooks, presumably because you can scroll through the document like one continuous piece of text, even though I’ve only ever heard of people using the page up and page down buttons to flip through like a normal book. Same for page breaks – apparently there’s a bug/feature in the version of Indesign that I have where the only way to “force” a page break is by creating a separate document for each break. Now, this works for my chapters because I have each chapter as a separate file, but I also want each column to be on its own page and I’m sure as hell not creating 55 separate documents just to force Indesign to paginate my book the right way.

The other big problem I’ve been facing is regarding fonts because so far I still haven’t even been able to get a clear definition of whether most e-readers even allow external fonts! You see, there’s an option when I export to embed fonts (even though it’s not entirely working), however when I pull up the final output in an on-screen previewer, it’s instead using some ugly, default system font that looks horrible.

I could go on and on, but I won’t because at this point I’ve determined that it just isn’t very productive for me to keep spinning my wheels like this when I’ve got a million other projects I could be working on instead. I’ve certainly validated that I overestimated how easy converting to e-book formatting would be, so now my plan is to take a step back and re-evaluate while I get some other stuff wrapped up before I circle back with a little more time on my hands.

I think I need to get a better handle on exactly how e-readers work – maybe get one for myself and play around with it for a bit – because while it’s frustrating that my beautiful, already done PDF can’t just be dropped into the thing and have that be that, I also understand for scalability’s sake why the document format needs to be based on text so that it can be more dynamic than, say, a PDF document which preserves the formatting word-for-word, but is basically a smart image of my layout at the end of the day.

In the meantime, if anybody has any quick tips to creating e-books (that they’re not trying to sell), feel free to post a comment because although I did find some seemingly useful tutorials throughout my struggles yesterday and today, at this point I could use all of the help that I can get!

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