Amazon: Typography Rules!

Amazon has done us all a favor and added hyphenation and a new font (Bookerly), and has refined its support for drop caps. Professional typesetting standards are now supported! We can provide high-quality ebooks to our readers, knowing that a drop cap will align nicely with the baseline we spec and word-spacing will be distributed without making us think we’ve fallen into the Grand Canyon in some lines.

OK, this might be an overstatement. Amazon did announce this week (link below) that for iOS and Fire tablets (only these platforms; more devices and apps coming sometime later this year), a whole suite of reader-facing enhancements is being implemented.

Back in the Fall I heard some talk that Amazon was serious about improving the Kindle’s reading experience.  It would have been hard to make it worse — especially for those using early Kindles — for folks accustomed to well typeset pages. Amazon doesn’t seem to have any plans to go to EPUB3, and will instead stick with KF8/Mobi, so this is an indication that they’re determined to improve their product. If we can’t get one standard for all ebooks, at last let’s push for the different environments to deliver quality books.

Amazon's own screengrab

This screen grab is from Amazon’s announcement.

Some questions:

  • will words hyphenate after the first 2 letters of a word? In my typesetting work, I never hyphenate after 2 letters. Never.
  • Will it allow ladders (2 or more hyphens in a row)?
  • Will it hyphenate compound words (self-destruct-ing)?
  • will it hyphenate capitalized words or names?
  • Will Amazon Guidelines be updated to provide some how-tos in using these features?

People urge me to not apply print standards to ebooks. Drop caps are so old-fashioned, so don’t use them; the power of font and size choice, and the resulting reflow, trumps elegant typography; etc. I don’t buy it. Partly because I’m old; partly because standards evolved for a reason. We don’t have to slavishly adhere to them, but we shouldn’t just toss them because they developed around yesterday’s technology.

No good word comes without caveats in ebook-making, so here’s the big one for this rollout: Amazon is applying these changes to its back catalog itself, without help from the ebook developers who made the files. That means a few things:

  • You’ve got no control over how your books will be ‘adjusted.’  You might want to check in on them occasionally to see what’s happened to them. I suppose if you don’t like what they’ve done you could make adjustments and re-upload your file.
  • We don’t know how long it’ll take to get to every Kindle book.
  • There are no best practices, or recommendations, for preparing new books for these enhancements.

So here’s what I’m asking: keep an eye on your already-uploaded books, and on those you’re sending to Amazon from now on. And keep your copy of the Kindle Publishing Guidelines updated. What do you see? Let us know. I’d love to hear some feedback.

Amazon’s announcement:

This writeup in Fast Company explains the features nicely:

Spec fonts with InDesign (and by hand)

Earlier this week, @snew_pleop asked the #eprdctn thread why fonts were not appearing as expected in iBooks. I wrote back, suggesting he check that the following is in the content.opf:

<meta property=”ibooks:specified-fonts”>true</meta>

I also mentioned that InDesign doesn’t write that line into the content.opf on export, so it needs to be included manually.

Before you could say zapf dingbat, @amarie tweeted that InDesign does, in fact, include that squirrelly font line.

In #eprdctn, it’s common to think you’re crazy when something you did successfully yesterday completely breaks down today. But I know that I add that meta property on a regular basis, so I wasn’t sure what the story was.

My confusion didn’t last long. I quickly realized that since I don’t often embed fonts (why don’t I? partly a throwback to when embedding wasn’t widely supported, but mostly as an acknowledgment of the power of the ultimate font chooser: the person reading the book), my content.opf lacks the needed metadata.

Here’s how the Export-to-EPUB screen looks when I export:


I leave the Include Embeddable Fonts box unchecked.

My InDesign export looks to see if I’ve embedded fonts. I haven’t, so there’s no ibooks-specific font metadata in the content.opf:


I insert it, like so:


I often use my own CSS. The option for this is under Additional CSS in the Export to EPUB screenshot above. I’ve developed a clean, simple CSS that I use for many projects; it’s easily mapped to InDesign documents that I create or that a client provides for EPUB creation. (I’ll post about using custom CSS soon.)

Here’s the CSS for the standard p tag:


Sometimes I spec a device-specific font set (iBooks includes Gill Sans):


Even though I’m not including an embedded font, I am spec’ing a font family, so the ibooks-specific font meta property needs to be present. Otherwise, ibooks will do what it wants with the <p> and <h1>, <h2>, etc. tags.

So, when you export, if you check Include Embeddable Fonts, InDesign will write the all-important ibooks-specific line into your content.opf. If you leave it unchecked, remember to add it after export, or be ready for ibooks to decide who your book should look.



Revealing EPUB secrets — together

If you’re reading this blog, you already know that EPUB has its secrets and mysteries. Implementation of EPUB3 (and 2) and KF8 might be ornery and hard to wrangle, but there are lots of developers and designers who are eager to share their expertise. Many will jump at the chance to test a new solution.

Coming from print production and design, I deeply appreciate those who wake up in the morning thinking in XHTML and CSS. And, I love sharing my knowledge of what makes book-sense with those who haven’t put in the years I have creating print book layouts, then adapting them for digital use.

That’s the relationship I plan to explore as editor-in-chief of I want to take an already powerful resource and make it an essential way station where developers, designers, and everyone else on the EPUB-making spectrum can find and share information.

Send in your questions and dilemmas; we’ll try to explore them in a future post. Don’t hesitate to comment on posts. If you’ve got a different approach to a problem, we want to hear it.

And send in article ideas and queries! We want to continue to feature a wide range of voices on every EPUB topic imaginable.

Thanks to Anne-Marie Concepcion and David Blatner for offering me this position. I’m thrilled and excited to be part of their team. And thanks to Matthew Diener and Derrick Schultz for bringing epubsecrets to the great place it is today. I’ll enjoy continuing their great work, and expanding the content, features, and general greatness of the site.

You can read more about me here, and check out my website here.

PS: look me up at PePcon 2015 in Philadelphia. I’ll be speaking with Joshua Tallent on publishing to the Kindle on June 4.

Validate EPUB and iBooks Author ebook files for Apple iBooks Store

Your ebook is finished! You did your homework, fixed all the nasty errors that epubcheck threw at you, and your ebook is done. The only remaining step is to send it to Apple’s review team and cross your fingers.

A week passes and…crap, Apple rejects the file for some technical reason:

> ERROR ITMS-5107: Fixed layout books must identify the start of the book’s main content by including a guide (EPUB 2) or Landmarks (EPUB 3), or provide a custom sample. For more information see the iBookstore Asset Guide in the Deliver Your Content module on iTunes Connect.

What?! epubcheck did not warn you of that, did it? No, it didn’t, because the error reported is actually not a requirement in the EPUB 3 specification. It is, nevertheless, a requirement of the iBooks Store as stated in Apple’s iBooks Asset Guide. That document describes, among other things, stuff that is required by Apple but not necessarily by the EPUB 3 specification nor, therefore, by epubcheck.

Grrr! So now you have to fix that, send the ebook to Apple all over again, and wait more time for your file to be reviewed, hoping this time you did not miss anything else required by Apple but not enforced by epubcheck. There goes another week you will never get back.

The thing is, you could actually have avoided that bummer had you used Apple’s automated online validator before sending the book to their human review team. That validation service provides instant results, and you can validate any book without even registering the book in iTunes Connect (which is what you—or your ebook distributor—do for any book that you want to sell through the iBooks Store). So do yourself a favor and test your books against Apple’s validator before sending them to the iBooks Store.

Using Apple’s ebook validator requires you to use the command line (i.e., the application Terminal in OS X or the Command Prompt in Windows), but fret not, it’s not that difficult. Here is how you do it.

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Dogfooding, now known as Ebooking.

At BookNet Canada’s Tech Forum (aka “the day after Ebookcraft”) I gave a talk about the many thoughts I have about being a developer in the publishing industry.

Screenshot 2015-03-14 00.51.23

One of the thoughts I brought up was the concept of “dogfooding.” The concept goes like this: if you expect people to buy your product, you should be able and willing to use the product yourself. As an example, the CEO of Proctor & Gamble better be using Tide and not something Unilever produces. If his company makes changes to a product, he or she should be the first one to try it. If you dislike the product, there’s a pretty good chance others will as well.

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The Best EPUB reader for Windows?

“What can I test this EPUB file with on my Windows computer?”

It’s a dreaded question for many ebook creators. While Mac users now have iBooks to push their clients to, Windows is stuck without a great EPUB3 reader. And nothing is worse than a client sending you a huge list of problems with their title that is actually just a list of rendering bugs from the reader app that you have no control over.

With that in mind, here’s a few decent readers to suggest to your clients using PCs.

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epubcheck 103: Reading errors

In Part 1 we looked at why Epubcheck is important. In Part 2 we looked at the various ways to use it. Here in Part 3 we’ll look at how to interpret the error messages and some common techniques to use if you have no clue what it’s saying.

What does an Epubcheck error look like?

In the following examples I’ve created a simple EPUB with one error—a missing closing tag for a paragraph. That’s see what happens when I run that through epubcheck.

The most basic error message—one that comes directly from the epubcheck program, looks like this:
ERROR: /Users/derrickschultz/Downloads/failedepub.epub/OEBPS/chapter0.xhtml(12,4): element "p" not allowed here; expected the element end-tag, text or element "a", "abbr", "area", "audio", "b", "bdi", "bdo", "br", "button", "canvas", "cite", "code", "command", "datalist", "del", "dfn", "em", "embed", "epub:switch", "i", "iframe", "img", "input", "ins", "kbd", "keygen", "label", "map", "mark", "meter", "ns1:math", "ns2:svg", "object", "output", "progress", "q", "ruby", "s", "samp", "script", "select", "small", "span", "strong", "sub", "sup", "textarea", "time", "u", "var", "video" or "wbr" (with xmlns:ns1="" xmlns:ns2="")
ERROR: /Users/derrickschultz/Downloads/failedepub.epub/OEBPS/chapter0.xhtml(13,3): The element type "p" must be terminated by the matching end-tag "</p>".
ERROR: /Users/derrickschultz/Downloads/failedepub.epub/OEBPS/chapter0.xhtml: The element type "p" must be terminated by the matching end-tag "</p>".

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Books on the Web, Part 3: Current Tools

In part 1 of this series we looked at the benefits of putting books on the web. In part 2 we discussed some of the things that still need improvement for books to thrive on the web. In this final part of Books on the Web we look at some currently available tools to publish your book to be read in web browsers.

If you’re interested in publishing your books to the web, there are already a wide array of different tools. Each of them supports putting your title on a webpage, but how each one does it differs dramatically. Let’s a take a look at the pros and cons of each tool.

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