Tuesday, November 27, 2012

eBookery 101: A Handbook

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

For the next few weeks, during our busy season, I'll be reproducing bits and pieces of our free "eBookery:101" handbook that we give away to all clients and prospective clients.  If you want a complete copy for yourself, you can download it for free from our Knowledgebase, at:  http://j.mp/VzC7dqPlease note:  this is not a "how-to make your own ebook" manual, but, rather a simple basic explanation of ebook fundamentals and things a beginning epublisher should know.  It's not all-inclusive, and it's not a beginner's guide to self-publishing, either, although we do have some marketing tips in there as well.  Thanks!

What are the basic ebook formats?

There are really only two remaining ebook formats, of the numerous types that were floating around some years ago.
  • The first and foremost, in terms of commercial sales, are the Kindle format(s), those being mobi, prc (old) and azw. Colloquially, these are called "mobi" by most people in the business.
  • The second, used by Apple, Adobe Digital Editions, Nook, Google Editions, Diesel, Kobo, etc., is epub. Epub allows greater design flexibility than mobi, because it uses a more advanced level of htm.  

 What are the limits of ebooks?

To start with, there are some basics:
  • No backgrounds or background images can be used on any ebook that will be converted into Kindle (Mobi) format for the e-ink devices. The newer devices, and the Kindle Fire tablet, do support this capability.
  • Text boxes or pull-quotes will have to be formatted differently than in print.
  • Images in Kindle e-ink volumes can't be wrapped inside paragraphs, but can have this in ePUB format and in the newer Kindle devices and Fire Tablet.
  • You can’t put text over an image in an Amazon Mobi book that will display on the legacy e-ink devices.
  • You can only use tables that are about 3 columns wide, and very few rows.
For most things, you can only have a single column of text. No “newspaper-like" columns. (See Figure 1 - Sample of Kindle e-ink device text, Font Size 1.) Some small areas with two column items can sometimes be made to look right by using tables, but it needs to be used sparingly.

Many graphic elements, like characters from foreign languages, can’t be used. Generally, we recommend that most indices be omitted, or simply entered without page numbers. Almost every ebook reader out there has a great search function. This makes it better for your readers and less expensive for you!

Is it true that readers can change how my book looks?

In almost all reading devices, users can change the font size. In the Kindle, the font can be changed from the default size of 3 down to the smallest size of 1 and the largest size of 8. You may see two samples, below, of the same page of “The Prince and the Pauper,” shown at two vastly different reader-selected font sizes. (Click to enlarge images)

Figure 1 - Sample of Kindle e-ink device text, Font Size 1 (From the Prince and the Pauper, formatted by Ignacio Fernández Galván and used with his kind permission)
Figure 2 - a sample page of the same Kindle e-ink text at Font Size 1.  Same book--nothing different except, the human reader wanted a larger font size!

In many ereading devices, the human reader can even change the font style. This will also affect how the book looks, not only in the font. This will change the spacing between letters and words, changing your book yet again.

Next time:  Text reflows, or wraps, and, what about those footnotes?

Thanks, guys!  Remember, if you want the entire 80-page PDF, replete with images and a linked Table of Contents, bookmarks, etc., go here:  http://j.mp/VzC7dq


  1. Hitch, I'm so glad there are people like you who can take this kind of detail and run with it. If I had to figure this out by myself, my eyes would be permanently crossed and both foam and drool would be pouring out of my mouth.

    It's important that I know some things, but I'm so not ready to learn any more. This reminds me of the QuickBooks program I just bought. In my hands, it's anything but quick.

  2. Thanks, Hitch! I just downloaded your eBookery 101 - great info!

    Could you, one of these days, make a list of pre-formatting habits writers should get used to using to make your life easier? Like using Word's Paragraph indent instead of the Tab key, etc.?

    Also, how about formatting differences between fiction and nonfiction? I write how-to nonfiction and want more spaces, subheadings, bulleted lists, etc. Any tips for that?

    Thanks a lot!

    Jodie :-)

  3. Oops! I just remembered - you already did that, in your article, "A Dozen Do's and Don'ts on Prepping Your Novel for e-Publishing", here on CFC on May 29! Excuse me while I go read that again!

  4. Hi, Jodie:

    You know, a good point--I should update that article, because there are new things--for example, bulleted lists are now supported in all Kindle devices--that have changed. Glad you like the Handbook, and I'll work up an updated version of that article. Thanks!

  5. Really? I didn't know that about bulleted lists - that's great to know! Just ordinary bulleted lists, or do you do something special?

    With my reader-friendly, highly skimmable how-to books, it's more of a headache, with all the subheadings and lists. I've been mostly formatting them myself because I keep updating them, and am learning as I go along. Will maybe send the next one to you, after Christmas, when you're not so busy.

    An updated list would be great! Thanks in advance!

  6. Hi, Jodie:

    Yes! You have no idea how exciting that was in our little corner of the world! You can use a plain old bulleted list, available in Word, and it will convert in Kindle. Don't go nuts; it still gets a bit cranky if you try to do, say, bullets inside of a numbered list--but you can do a plain indented bulleted list now without any problems. You do not have control over the type of bullet--but the hanging indent now works perfectly, and you can even do a second level of bullets, if needed. (Woot!). ;-) I hope that helps?

  7. Awesome news, Hitch! Thanks a lot!

    Good luck with your pre-Christmas rush!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.