The league of eBOUND-ers returned once again to the MaRS District (which sounds like we’re crossing genres but it’s perfectly true) for two days of valiant, uh, learning. It was certainly a whirlwind adventure, full of daring, laughter, heartache (format is important, guys!) and culminating in the Quest for the Pop Culture Cookie–but that’s a story for another time. Though we will fondly remember our edible spoils:
(We salute those no longer with us)
Our real treasures were the lessons bestowed up on. Lessons we shall now pass on to you.
So pick your path and hear tell of these lessons five. And may the craft of ebooks be with you (okay, now we’re crossing genres).
Where would you like to start?
Digital Typography: Font Management
(The font is strong with this one)
Speakers: Charles Nix and Champagne Choquer
With so many fonts, styles, and typefeel, the choices for setting techniques can feel overwhelming. Charles Nix and Champagne Choquer offered a very informative (and hilarious!) session offering insight on using typography and font-embedding to your advantage.
Charles pointed out the many pitfalls that easily befall typesetters. He suggested that designers should be striving for readability and should actually read the text they are typesetting. Overall, good typesetting requires thoughtful consideration in order to make compelling and meaningful text. Though some vendors do not support embedded text, this by no means suggests that consistency among a publisher’s books should fall by the wayside. Consistency is an important element to a publisher’s brand (recite that three times before you go to sleep every night).
Champagne Choquer brought the audience on what she affectionately called “The Font Embedder’s Journey.” She reinforced Charles’ point that embedded fonts, while costly and time-consuming to implement, were important for enhancing the readers experience.
She also cautioned publishers to be aware of End User License Agreements as they can appear in free fonts and helped delineate between .otf
fonts. While all of the technicalities of a font may not be for the faint of heart, she broke down some of the publishers’ biggest woes with obfuscation and embedding.
No matter what the publisher decides to embark on with font embedding, ebook designers need only remember one thing…
Speaker: Joshua Tallent
Joshua Tallent, that fount of digital knowledge, took us on the wild ride that is ebook quality assurance (with some scenic detours through basic ePUB design). The moral of the day’s story seemed to be if you want a good, live product, QA is essential to your workflow. Luckily, there are many resources available to assist publishers.
But first, the lessons.
We learned that readers of ebooks do want that print experience, meaning that when designing an ebook, the primary influence is going to be its print counterpart—but your ePUB is not a clone.
The key to a quality user experience is how well your ebook displays. That is, after all, its purpose – to be easily read. To create a flawless, platform-agnostic ebook, there are a few behind-the-interface variables to contend with. Luckily, Joshua Tallent whittled the immense number down to four that should be considered of primary concern:
- Operating System: Depending on the device being used, certain specifications need to be met.
- Display Engine: Uses HTML code to render interface-friendly text.
- Hardware: Each device has its own quirks; it’s own way of doing things. What may work on one could not be supported in another.
- Reading System Software: The application used to display content.
After the initial (and hopefully simple) design is completed, we cannot express the importance of the next step.
Always, always, always validate your ePUBs. If you do not, vendors may not accept your distributions, which would result in your book not being live (though you believe it is). Think of all the missed sales! There are a few resources (listed below) to help you with this, a free and reliable standard being the IDPF Validator.
But, even if your ePUB is now sans warning/errors, that doesn’t mean it will pass the retailer test. Each retailer has its own set of requirements your books must follow or else they will not be accepted into their storefronts. Keep in mind:
- Does not accept books that include links or references to other retailers (i.e. never include a shout-out to Amazon).
- Always include such useful items as TOC, cover, and start location
- Images must be no larger than 4 million pixels (width x height)
- Maximum of 10 MB of images per HTML
- More information is located in their iBooks Asset Guide
- KF8 is not an ePUB, it’s Amazon’s own proprietary format
- The largest file size accepted is 650MB
- Images cannot exceed 5MB
- Include TOC and start location
- Be careful, some CSS is not supported and is therefore, ignored
- Postscript fonts will be ignored
- Media is only supported in Mobi 7, anything older will be not render it
- NCX/Nav auto-creation means that what is seen in the sideload is not necessarily what the user sees—especially on older devices
- Font obfuscation is not supported, which is mainly an issue if InDesign is being used to created your ePUB
- Tables need to use less than four columns
It is recommended that when testing your ePUBs you use an iPad, as it supports most apps. But remember, when sideloading, what you see is not necessarily what will be seen on the vendor’s device.
Once you have your files open, go through your own personal QA checklist and ensure each element is properly working.
For example, check to see:
- Metadata (correct?)
- Internal/external linking (working? If not, remove)
- Fonts (embedded properly?)
- Cover image (available?)
- Copyright Page (included? Up-to-date? ISBN there?)
- TOC (in order?)
- Consistent formatting? (headings, page numbers, text colour, images, tables, charts, etc.)
And of course, the most important element, one that you will be certainly called on—how’s your grammar?
And now, the resources:
WillThatBeOverRidden on GitHub
Pagina (ePUB checker)
oXygen (XML Editor)
Flightdeck ( automated QA )
Continue on your quest:
Matrix Revolutions: Ebook Indexing
(Photo from: The Matrix Revolutions)
Speaker: Pilar Wyman
Creating indexes in ebooks provides some cool new features that aren’t possible in print, like filters and collapsible groups, but they also pose new challenges, like the loss of a static page number.
Not every book will require the same type of index – for each book, you need to figure out which kind of functionality will work best for the material and the readers. Pilar suggests using line numbers, paragraph numbers, or other anchor IDs. Another potential strategy is to divide content into chunks, and insert index entries at the beginning of each chunk of text.
Indexes can either be linked or embedded in content files. Linked entries use XHTML anchors or unique IDs. Embedded entries are inserted directly into content as fields, XML elements, or using the program’s own unique marking system. If you’re new to indexing, Pilar advises starting with embedded over linked entries.
If content is edited after the indexes have been created, the unique IDs for linked entries could be lost. Pilar advised thinking of the index as a living document; as a book is updated, the index will need to be updated, too. You’ll save yourself time in the long run if you provide explanatory notes while you’re creating the index of how it was constructed.
You can view all of the slides from Pilar’s presentation here. The EPUB3 Indexes Specification is available on the IDPF site here.
eBook Accessibility: Why, How, and What For
Speaker: Laura Brady
Why do you want to make your content accessible? It adds value, it makes content more agile and it’s good for business.
By including accessible content and coding to your ebooks, it opens your market to consumers who would not otherwise be able to use your product. Accessibility in terms of ebooks means that your content is compatible with assistive technology, whether that be text-to-speech or Braille readers, or as simple as enlarging the text on an eReader. With accessibility coding, your content is able to reach the 15% of the world’s population who use assistive technology because of a disability. 85% of the non-disabled market have a situational disability. A disability can be poor vision and a situational disability can be as simple as using voice-to-text while driving.
To make your content available on accessibility devices you need to code it properly. Use tags to ensure logical reading order is maintained, use the correct HTML codes, and remember that deep navigation is key to easy use. Be sure that your ebook has accessibility metadata.
Keep in mind the needs of your users and ensure that your ebooks maintain the four principles of A11y: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
You can find more information about accessible publishing with the BISG’s Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing, The A11Y Project, Arizona State A11y Lab
You can view the slides from Laura’s presentation here.
Where will you go from here?
When Nothing Ever Goes Out of Print: Maintaining Backlist Ebooks
Speaker: Teresa Elsey
In the early days of ebooks (yes, we’re really far along in the lifespan of ebooks now to harken back to their early days), many publishers heeded the call for digitalization and sent vast swaths of their catalogue for conversion. Those early ebooks were sent out into the world, and many of them remain out there in the digital void, growing more out-of-date every day.
Teresa Elsey described the ebook catalogue at her employer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as an iceberg (above) – the front list catalogue is the tip, visible above the water, while the backlist lurks below the surface, growing larger every year. She described older ebooks as “ticking time bombs” – they will all eventually fall out of standards, and need to be continually reviewed.
Ebooks lack the visual cues that signal age we associate with print books – they don’t get dog-eared, or develop that oft-fetishized “old book smell,” which is both a blessing and a curse. Elsey mentioned that out-of-date information can also seem more jarring in an ebook, because it always looks new brand new.
Elsey recommends reviewing rights, updating metadata, and checking URLs regularly for older ebooks. And let’s not forget taking good notes and commenting your code. As we heard elsewhere during ebookcraft, “documentation will save you down the road.”
You have come to the end of your quest, what would you like to do?
I am ready for the final test
I wanna go again!
(featured photo courtesy of BookNet Canada)