The Print-on-Demand Cover vs the Ebook Cover

Publishing Print-on-Demand and Ebook Simultaneously

Lessons Learned for Book Cover Design

Cool in Tucson First Edition

The cover of the original Severn House edition (2008).

Mystery writer Elizabeth Gunn’s Cool in Tucson has been out of print for a few years, and we are in the galley proof stage of reissuing this first Sarah Burke mystery in both print and ebook formats.

We’ve been working with ebooks for several years now, but this marks the second time we’ve utilized print-on-demand services concurrently with producing an ebook. (The first was the similar relaunch of Elizabeth’s Jake Hines series with Triple Play.) Below are some lessons learned from the process regarding the print-on-demand cover and its relationship to the ebook cover. Continue Reading →

How to Code Math in HTML / CSS

A Labor of Love

Seeing HTML was developed by some nerds at CERN, it’s kinda weird that there’s no obvious and simple way to make pretty math with it, right? In developing math learning games for our project Study Putty (“Where the Cool Kids Go to Scrape by on Tests”), I found myself face-to-face with this issue: just how does one code complex math in html?

Math in HTML--Test shot at Study Putty

First, a little background. For those who don’t know, HTML stands for “hat and taco markup language,” because of all the ‘<‘ and ‘>’ you need to use, being that they look like pointy hats or taco shells getting folded. Hence the technical name for this language.

While many fine publishers of Internet content opt to use images to represent expressions, it was my belief that with a little creative HTMLing/CSSing, I could do it in less time than if I had produced static images of the math formulas I needed. Plus, this way the formulas would be guaranteed to match the font and general styling of the page in which they would be displayed, even if that styling should subsequently change. But what about LaTeX, you say? MathJax? Man, ain’t nobody got time to learn that. I’m a web designer, not some nerd or something. Oh, wait. Wait. Yes, I am being informed being a web designer qualifies me.

And also that it is highly suspicious that I know to pronounce LaTeX like LAY-TECH. Continue Reading →

InDesign EPUB Export Sucks (and How to Get Around It)

The Mystery of Ebooks

VertigoEbooks are still frequently a quandary to the small-to-mid-sized publisher. But with rising sales of ebooks and the popularity of mobile devices, there comes a time when you must look the ebook in the eye and face the future–or face the fad, at least. (I don’t know if ebooks as we know them will be around in ten years. I just know they’re around now so we better deal with them.) Anyway, realizing this, maybe you give in and poke the InDesign EPUB export button, just to see. InDesign chugs and spurts and gurtles a little bit and then spits out an ebook. You think, “Oh! How easy was that?” But then…the book is opened and the nightmare begins.

The nightmare is the slow-learned revelation that ebooks are not necessarily easy, despite the existence of tools that claim to be able to produce them from other file types at the push of a button. Only if your page layout is like that of a straightforward novel with no illustrations or special formatting is there a blessed chance in heck that any automated ebook export will produce a book that looks halfway good with no additional labor. This is especially true of many InDesign layouts, because you will have layers and graphic frames and fonts and style overrides up the wazoo. All this fancy formatting that is great for print will not translate. Here is why in a nutshell: Ebooks are basically HTML, and not advanced web2.0/webapp/skynet HTML, but stripped-down, carved in a stone slab as Cuneiform kind of HTML–no layers, limited positioning, tricky-to-non-existent font embedding…It’s barbarian by web design standards.

However, there is a solution to this, and that is to make it TAO. EPUB books don’t allow a full array of styling control, and so you must relinquish control. The solution to the issue is “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Thoroughly simplify–or Thoreau-ly simplify, as in Henry David Thoreau-ly, since I believe that is his quote. In simplicity, your document will find the elegance of ebook beauty. Embrace white space, embrace the inability to layer or position, and embrace the fact that ereaders may or may not substitute their plain defaults for your special fonts. Most of all, you must embrace the concept of flowing text. You have almost no control over how any given page will look. Continue Reading →

The Ebook Cover: Graphic Design for the Under-Confident

Part two of two in a mini-series on ebook covers. The first part was about meeting marketplace specifications in the simplest way possible. Here we’re going to talk about the ebook cover design itself.

Graphic Design

Books get judged by their covers. One cannot over-stress how important visuals are for making a sale. Are you a graphic designer? How many clients have contracted your services? Unless your answer to this question is a non-zero positive integer, you might want to find someone else to help you.

Of all the aspects of producing an ebook as an individual who is self-publishing or as a small business, this is the one thing you really should consider outsourcing if you do not have the skills ready at your disposal. The human beast is a visual animal. It doesn’t matter what the inside of your book is like–nobody will see it if the outside screams unprofessional and low-quality product.

That’s an exaggeration. Actually professional publishers put out a lot of mediocre covers, and those books still sell. The cover is less-than-optimal because they are keeping production costs down, while the book still makes it into consumers’ hands because they have a great big marketing machine at their disposal. The difference between you and them is that you don’t have the goliath marketing machine. A great cover can only help you overcome this handicap.

The Blue Fox by Sjon (Bjartur, 2003)

A fine cover in my opinion. Anybody else get the sense Sjón is attempting to make a brand of himself? (Image: Bjartur)

For the bold DIYer who is not frightened by this attempt at intimidation, a few basic design guidelines can help you out. Like guidelines in any artistic medium, they are meant to be broken and fudged, but in general: Continue Reading →