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Dick Pountain

Kindle publishing and the problem of apostrophes

Posted on 19 Aug 2013 at 09:52

Publishing on the Kindle sends Dick Pountain into an apostrophic rage

I've finally bitten the bullet and published my own Kindle book. I’d been thinking about it for several years, cutting out PC Pro features about how to convert your work into Amazon’s MOBI format, but somehow I’d never got around to actually doing it. Finally, Kevin Partner’s recent Online Business columns – describing how he set up his own experimental Kindle publishing business – persuaded me that it was something I must try.

I had my content, in the shape of a short book I wrote called Sampling Reality. It attempts to stitch together recent results in information theory, affective neuroscience (the physiological basis of emotions) and cognitive psychology. As you can imagine, it isn’t a title likely to trouble the bestsellers list, and so far I’d made it available only via Scribd, and on my own website in PDF form.

Converting my PDF produced a total dog’s breakfast

This meant that I already had it in a more or less publishable format: paginated, with chapter headings and subheads, a table of contents and a properly formatted bibliography. I’d done all that easily enough in Microsoft Word, using Times New Roman for body text and Arial for headings (I’m conservative that way; no hipster Futura or Helvetica). It looked nice, and was quite easy to use, with working links from the contents page to chapters.

Book covers are one of Kevin’s strongest recommendations; with so much on Kindle, you have a fraction of a second to catch a browsing eye, so you must make your work noticeable. I used a montage of my own Flickr photos, and stretched it to fit in Word without resorting to more sophisticated software. Now I had a PDF with a full-colour cover, which I expected to turn into a Kindle MOBI file.

There’s only one game in town for doing this conversion, and that’s a free program called calibre. Written by Kovid Goyal, Calibre is hardcore multiplatform open source, which you can compile yourself from GitHub if you’re that way inclined.

I just downloaded a Windows version. The software is far more than a file format converter – it’s a complete content management system for your ebook collection. Its multiplatform roots show in a colourful GUI that conforms to neither Windows nor Mac guidelines, so it will have you scratching your head at first. I’d already been through that hoop back in 2009, when I discovered Calibre for converting public-domain PDF books to read on my Sony PRS-505 ebook reader.

Converting my PDF produced a total dog’s breakfast. Pagination was screwed, with chapter headings halfway down pages. Subheads were indistinguishable from the main text. The contents page was spread out with one chapter per page – and its links didn’t work. Most intriguingly, every single apostrophe in the book had been replaced with a little empty box. Apart from that, it was fine.

What I hadn’t understood before is that MOBI supports only one font family per document, although it does permit bold, italics and various sizes. Bye-bye to my sans serif headings. I generated new PDFs with altered settings to no effect, then decided to dump PDF.

Calibre can’t convert DOCX files directly, so I tried outputting HTML. That paginated better, but the contents page still didn’t work, and my apostrophes were still atrophied. ODT didn’t work too well either. Finally, I tried good old RTF and it all looked good, with subheads in bold and a working contents list... but still, those bloody apostrophes.

I hit the forums and found a tip from Goyal himself, which said this happens when a Kindle doesn’t have the right font to display a particular character. He suggested setting "transliterate Unicode to ASCII" in one of Calibre’s many config files. That didn’t work, but it provoked me into getting medieval on the document’s ass.

I search-and-replaced every single apostrophe from Unicode character 0027 to 02B9 (a slightly smarter apostrophe): this made the conversion work, and finally I had a publishable file that passed Kindle’s vetting stage without criticism. It was up on Amazon within a day – you can check out the result at my Amazon profile page.

One last annoying thing about the way Kindle works is that if you want to edit an already published book, you have to delete and resubmit it, with the accompanying 12-hour delay: there’s no interactive editing. So when I noticed that the word "Contents" now occupies page 2 all on its own, I couldn’t face fixing it. I will one day soon, and that’s a promise.

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User comments

Try Try and Try again - it won't work.

Speaking from (bitter) experience, it doesn't matter how many times you try to get it right, the conversion process will compromise on something and then you have to face the Amazon trolls who will post reviews condemming your poor English, grammar,punctuation, spelling etc. One other tip - for goodness sake don't post in any Amazon forum mentioning your book as this will open the floodgates to the trolls who will stream in with buckets of unjustified, unwarranted and harsh criticism.

By barrada on 19 Aug 2013

PressBooks

PressBooks, based on WordPress source code, is a worthy consideration for easily creating eBooks. As a pure geek, I prefer to tinker in xml for hours on end, but PressBooks will save you a lot of pain.

By 0thello on 19 Aug 2013

Formatting

I have some 300+ books in my Kindle Fire HD and all of them have formatting issues. Hyphenation seems particularly troublesome, with the hyphen appearing when the word is in mid line, e.g., "hyphen-ation". I am also irritated by photographs - the lack of them, that is, or their placement in the middle of the book or at the end, all grouped together. This made sense in a printed book, where higher quality paper was needed for the photos, but makes no sense in an electronic medium. The photos should accompany the text that refers to them.

By PeterRodwell on 19 Aug 2013

Moved from Calibre to Altlantis Word Processor

I gave up on Calibre as it generated incompatible files and I purchased Atlantis Word Processor for $8. It created ePub and MOBI documents very easily.

By buckwem on 20 Aug 2013

Simple Help

I feel so bad for those having trouble with ePublishing, knowing that typically it's because they aren't aware of simple solutions. One is that most manuscripts can be uploaded in MS Word and will look fine as eBooks.

When you notice formatting issues with an eBook and think you need to fix them, keep in mind that the eBook will be viewed on a number of different types and sizes of eReading devices and screens. Also, the readers themselves can change the text size (font) for easier viewing. Small text on a large screen might appear perfect, but it might be difficult to read. A small screen with large text REALLY looks odd and the formatting can be way off. It's the price a reader pays, and soon understands, for the convenience of the electronic book. Generally, chapters will have obvious breaks, but pages free flow--pagination doesn't matter on an electronic screen and aren't apparent on a Kindle eBook, especially if it's uploaded directly by the author onto the Kindle Direct Publishing platform from a Word.doc.

Personally, I find the biggest challenge with eBooks is when a manuscript contains a number of images or charts and graphs. Careful consideration is required for proper placement of these items and sometimes require a caption be placed onto the actual image.

I've never found the need to use a PDF file for Kindle. I never bother with Calibre, and I've helped literally hundreds of writers get POD and ePublished.

I wish I could help! Best wishes!

By GordonKessler on 20 Aug 2013

Why would you start with PDF?

If you look at the Calibre manual you will see that PDF is the least recommended option. I use word and save as filtered html with no problems whatsoever. I understand the latest version of Calibre will now handle Docx but I admit I haven't tried it yet.

You also don't want pagination in your source doc.

Calibre is capable of really good results if you get to know the features.

By jaibee3 on 22 Aug 2013

Why would you start with PDF?

If you look at the Calibre manual you will see that PDF is the least recommended option. I use word and save as filtered html with no problems whatsoever. I understand the latest version of Calibre will now handle Docx but I admit I haven't tried it yet.

You also don't want pagination in your source doc.

Calibre is capable of really good results if you get to know the features.

By jaibee3 on 22 Aug 2013

PDF is considered an "end product"

First, let me say you are not alone. and as "easy" as people want to say formatting is for Kindle, it does have it's issues, especially when you are trying to format a non-ficiton book or one with special formatting, such as multiple images, captions or tables.

let me address your comments first:

1. Kindle will allow serif and sans-serif fonts in a file. however you need to embed the fonts or specify the fonts compatible with the e-reader. However, users can override how the book displays with the preferred font of their choice.

I commonly use Helvetica, sans-serif headers with Palatino,serif body copy. The sans-serif is great for tables.

2. when making a change to your Kindle book, the 12 - 24 hour delay does not mean your book is unpublished. It means it takes that long for your revised book to "replace" the other. The only way to Unpublish your book is to put it back into "draft" or delete it from KDP.


You mentioned Calibre, which is a conversion program. But you want to build an ebook, not just convert it. and that means some understanding and knowledge of the programming language your are using - HTML.

The key to a wel-formatted book is understanding what you are trying to create. a PDF is a format that is as different from HTML ebooks (epub/mobi) as night and day. And once you create a PDF, converting it to another format is, well, dog food.

How many authors would attempt to build an HTML website? Years ago the answer would be minimal. Yet, authors jump in to ebook publishing - which is HTML based.

A good way to avoid common issues is to 1) hire a professional or 2) read as much as you can from professionals on HTML/ebook formatting.




Another issue is fonts. The only "real" way to display a specific font in an ebook (epub/mobi) is to embed it. And there are issues with this course:

1. Users can override the fonts on their device. I prefer Georgia for reading and have set ALL ebooks to display with that font.

2. Legal use of fonts in ebooks. While use of fonts in PDFs is acceptbile, they are not so much in epub/mobi files. Epubs/Mobis can be easily "broken parat" and the fonts obtained without purchase.


As you can see there is a lot to digest when creating an ebook, In many cases (fiction mostly), the process is easy, as GordonKessler mentioned. But the more complex your formatting needed, the more hands on you need to be.

I wish you the best,

SF Parrott

By UnrulyGuides on 26 Aug 2013

PDF is considered an "end product"

First, let me say you are not alone. and as "easy" as people want to say formatting is for Kindle, it does have it's issues, especially when you are trying to format a non-ficiton book or one with special formatting, such as multiple images, captions or tables.

let me address your comments first:

1. Kindle will allow serif and sans-serif fonts in a file. however you need to embed the fonts or specify the fonts compatible with the e-reader. However, users can override how the book displays with the preferred font of their choice.

I commonly use Helvetica, sans-serif headers with Palatino,serif body copy. The sans-serif is great for tables.

2. when making a change to your Kindle book, the 12 - 24 hour delay does not mean your book is unpublished. It means it takes that long for your revised book to "replace" the other. The only way to Unpublish your book is to put it back into "draft" or delete it from KDP.


You mentioned Calibre, which is a conversion program. But you want to build an ebook, not just convert it. and that means some understanding and knowledge of the programming language your are using - HTML.

The key to a wel-formatted book is understanding what you are trying to create. a PDF is a format that is as different from HTML ebooks (epub/mobi) as night and day. And once you create a PDF, converting it to another format is, well, dog food.

How many authors would attempt to build an HTML website? Years ago the answer would be minimal. Yet, authors jump in to ebook publishing - which is HTML based.

A good way to avoid common issues is to 1) hire a professional or 2) read as much as you can from professionals on HTML/ebook formatting.




Another issue is fonts. The only "real" way to display a specific font in an ebook (epub/mobi) is to embed it. And there are issues with this course:

1. Users can override the fonts on their device. I prefer Georgia for reading and have set ALL ebooks to display with that font.

2. Legal use of fonts in ebooks. While use of fonts in PDFs is acceptbile, they are not so much in epub/mobi files. Epubs/Mobis can be easily "broken parat" and the fonts obtained without purchase.


As you can see there is a lot to digest when creating an ebook, In many cases (fiction mostly), the process is easy, as GordonKessler mentioned. But the more complex your formatting needed, the more hands on you need to be.

I wish you the best,

SF Parrott

By UnrulyGuides on 26 Aug 2013

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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