For updating the blog!
Surely it should be an annual affair, at the least. In this case, the occasion is remaking last year's Christmas book. The layout wasn't right before. Now I have made it perfect!
That is to say, 'tis the season for making books. So if you'd like to buy Squid and Owl and/or Mama In Her Kerchief and I In My Madness - A Truly Awful Christmas Volume as nice PDF's, specially optimized for iPad reading - why, you simply go here! Honestly, they look great! (And the price is very reasonable, I say.) In the past I've tried to sell them as POD products, which was ok. This is more sensible. The higher resolution on an iPad makes a difference. I read a lot of comics on my iPad these days.
So I've been thinking about this eBook business. The devices are lovely. The fact that my iPad has a somewhat higher resolution than my mac screen makes a significant difference for reading. But, basically, Epub (or EPUB or epub or EpUb or however you capitalize it) and Kindle are bad formats.
Everything is supposed to flow. These HTML-based ebook formats are websites trying to be books. They don't have pages. They jostle images in funny ways, so the whole design gestalt is very web circa 1997. This is by design. You can't be sure what size screen you are dealing with, or what font, or print size (letter size) so you don't define individual pages. So every appearance of every bit of every ebook on every device gets its own custom-poured page, courtesy of these flow-y ebook formats. But the results are basically crude and ugly, typographically and design-wise. Suppose you had a choice between getting a basically quite nice 'standard' garment off the rack, or having an brain-damaged, blind tailor make you a 'bespoke' suit - just for you! cut by the poor, mad fellow, just to your measure! Well, there's a lot to be said for NOT the latter option.
What's the alternative? I'm glad you asked! Not only have I been thinking, I've been futzing around. Ha-ha! The idea is this: design a PDF so it looks perfect on the iPad. Why the iPad? Because I've got one, so I can see what I'm doing. Also, it seems like it's going to be around for a while. But how will it look on other devices? I'm assuming it will look fine. It's a PDF. Everything can read PDF. If the screen is fatter or thinner on some other device, then there will either be a slightly fatter top or side margin. But slightly fat margins are minor typographical sins compared to the layout barbarities routinely committed by ePub and Kindle.
How do you design a PDF for the iPad (or whatever device, I'm a mac guy, but I don't want this to be about the hegemony of Steve Jobs' ghost)? Well, the rules are slightly different than for regular books
in a few ways, seems to me.
No facing pages, so you don't have to account for that in any of the usual ways.
No page numbers or other header/footer information. I really don't think it's a good idea reduplicating the data that is available at the top of the screen from the device itself - title and page number and so forth.
So far, so simple. For dealing with images, I think we need a slightly different rule. The reader itself IS a kind of frame, so images don't need any white around them in the PDF. They can go right up to the edge of the screen. No one's thumbs will cover them, and they will look suitably 'framed'. Full bleed. But text still needs a frame of white around it, in addition to the frame that is the device itself.
So, ideally, you put a half-inch of white on all sides. If you have a mix of pictures and text, you mix styles. Full bleed for images. But text gets a margin. Not so different from a magazine layout, really.
(The margin also allows those readers who need bigger type to zoom %15
or so and still see the whole text block.)
Here's an example of a more regular, non-comic-y-type book (PDF). I have made an iPad-optimized PDF ebook of Charles Dickens' short novel, The Chimes, complete with the original illustrations. I encoded the illustrations at high resolution, so they are zoomable so you can see the detail (which you usually can't, on the page). On the iPad, just tapping an image section gets you a bit of zoom in that direction, or you can use good old thumb and finger flick to make it big.
I am sure this looks better on my iPad than any epub or kindle version does or could. It's more full-featured (no image zoom in epub or kindle). My hypothesis is that it will look better on any other reader than any epub or kindle version, even if it looks slightly less absolutely nice on that other device than it does on the iPad, if the screen shape is slightly off. So I hereby invite all HC'ers to download my ebook and try it on your favorite e-reader and see whether it works or gives you trouble. How do the images behave on different readers? Can you zoom them easily?
Basically, my proposed approach is simple. As things stand, no one - well, almost no one - designs nice PDF's for the iPad. The PDF's you get are always laid out for some other purpose. But we are entering a new age in which most reading of PDF's will be done on smaller devices, like iPads. PDF seems so old-fashioned, but it's powerful and, in effect, open, because PDF is such a business-standard format that no device could fail to support it.
After coming to this conclusion, I stumbled on the site where I'm now selling Squid and Owl and Mama In Her Kerchief: The Illustrated Section. All PDF's. How sensible! And fortuitous. We'll see how it goes.
Updating the blog is also an experiment of sorts. I wonder whether any of the old friends will see this flicker of life in the dear ol' RSS feed and drop in for the holidays? Dunno whether I'll keep it up, of course. But I'm planning on making more fun e-books.