Category Archives: Ebooks

The Basics of Cover Design

A good cover is vital to your book’s success because it’s the first thing your potential readers see.  If you have a good eye for design, the right software and the experience to use it, there’s no reason why you can’t try to create your own cover.

If you haven’t got the right skills or you find the task too hard, it’s best to pay an experienced designer to help you. Don’t penny pinch and use an amateurish cover because that will suggest that the contents of your book are amateurish too. But even if you are using a designer, it’s still worth learning the basics of cover design so you understand what they are doing. Continue reading

Working with Pictures

  

Black cat in a coal hole taken at midnight

The picture on the left should open in a twinkling while the one on the right might take a some time to appear. (Actually, this will probably only be the case the first time you look.  Thereafter both pictures are likely to be cached in your PC and will appear immediately.)

My fairly ordinary camera takes pictures that are 4000 dots (pixels) wide and 3000 high. That’s 12 million dots altogether making it a 12 Megapixel camera. These dots get saved in a computer file where the colour of every dot is defined by 3 bytes. So, for the full unblemished definition, my pictures needs 36 Megabytes.

That’s the file that gives the right hand picture (it’s in png format). It’s an awfully big file to send to your screen just to provide a small black rectangle! The one on the left comes from a more sensible 1 kilobyte file (in jpg format) but I defy you to see the difference even though the left hand file size is 3600 times smaller.

You’d probably guess that my camera takes bigger pictures than this tiny image, but how big was the original?  The important answer is that it doesn’t a have physical size (or resolution)! It depends on the screen or printer you use to look at it.  If the dots on the device are big, so is the picture, if they’re small, so is the picture.    Older screens have resolutions of around 70-100 pixels per inch so my black cat picture would need a screen about 4 feet wide to show every pixel in the original.

However, I’ve set the width of both the pictures on this page to 3cm.  On an old style screen this would be about 100 dots wide and 75 high – 7500 in total.  Even the best iPad with its amazing 326dpi retina display would only use about 111 thousand  pixels.  So, what happens to rest the of the 36 million that were supplied for the right hand picture?   Some sort of averaging of pixel colours has to be done by your computer and detail will be lost – even though you can’t see it.  If you do this averaging before sending the file there are big gains to be made in speed.

Reducing the number of pixels to match the expected display device is sensible, but there are even more gains to be made by lumping together adjacent pixels of the same colour.  Both Jpeg and png formats do this, but jpgs use a technique that also allows close colours to be merged depending on a quality factor. At 100% the data is compressed as much as possible but nothing is lost.  At values lower than about 80% you can begin to see some deterioration of fine detail.

Neither of my pictures is absolutely black – otherwise both the left hand jpg and the right hand png would have been compressed to give very small files.  Instead there’s a random selection of almost black pixels.  The left hand jpg has been set to 200x150px with a quality of 70% making it a uniform very, very dark grey.  The png (4000X3000px with every pixel defined)  also shows up as a very very dark grey but the work to reduce it and average the colours was done by your computer after it received the file.

Be careful when you are changing the size of pictures. Increasing size will automatically drop the quality because your computer can’t add detail that isn’t there. Reducing the size is less likely to cause problems, but some software may drop the resolution at the same time without you realising. It may also drop the resolution when you export the file unless you have set it correctly.

So what resolution should you use?
Download speed is vital for websites and screen resolution is fairly poor so there is no point in using high definition pictures. 96dpi is usually fine and you should compress jpgs by the maximum amount possible without losing detail on the picture.

Print requires higher resolution so pictures that look fine on screen may appear fuzzy or blocky on paper and the curves may have jagged edges. 300dpi works well for print books, ebooks and covers but double-check your printing company’s requirements before you create your book. Higher resolutions are usually fine, although they may increase the file size of the ebook enough to push up the delivery cost on Amazon for books with a large number of pictures.

However much effort you put into getting the resolution right for your print book, you can still run into problems if your pdf creation software compresses the pictures. It’s sensible to check the settings before you create the file to make sure nothing is compressed lower than 300dpi. 

Colours
There’s another little hassle with files intended for print rather than screen – colour definition. In the camera and on screen, colours are defined in terms of the proportion of red, blue and green light (RGB).  Having all three together at 100% gives white.  But if you print all three colours together you get a muddy grey.  To get white you just need white paper – you don’t have to print anything!

Printing companies use Cyan, Magenta. Yellow and Black ink (CMYK) and yours may insist that pictures are defined in that system.  Don’t panic if your picture is in RGB.  There’s an equivalent CMYK setting for every RGB one so, if you set it correctly,  good pdf software can change the RGB colours to CMYK when it creates your file.

As the technology of inks is not quite the same as the science of colours, there may be some difference between what you see on screen and the printed result.  That’s why the printers ask for the definition in their own terms – it takes away any uncertainty.

E-book creation – The Absolute Basics

Should you publish your e-book yourself or is it so difficult that it would be better to pay someone with the necessary skills to do it for you?  

We think it’s very easy and, of course, when you discover the inevitable typo that you, your editor and your proof reader all missed, being able to put it right yourself is a super bonus.

The best way to decide which route to take is to have a dummy run. You’re not going to put this e-book up for sale so it doesn’t matter if your book isn’t completely ready yet.  In fact, any Word file will do but it’s best to use one with chapters so you can see how the chapter breaks work. If it has tables and pictures too, you’ll be able to see some of the problems they can cause but don’t worry about this if there aren’t any in your book.

Several companies allow you to upload your file and turn it into an e-book free of charge, but for this test, we suggest you use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The system is very user-friendly and creates a .mobi file which is the right format to sell on Amazon.

Whether you decide to create the ebook yourself or pay someone else to do it, you’ll need an Amazon KDP account to actually publish the book in Kindle format. (Some people will offer to do that for you for a fee or commission but it’s much better to do it yourself.)  So, if you haven’t go an account yet, go to  https://kdp.amazon.com and sign up.  

Now start your test by clicking ‘Add a new title’.  There are  several sections to fill in that you can  ignore for now.   Sections 1, 2 and 3 provide the basic information about the book (title, author etc.).  Section 4 lets you upload a cover or create one with the KDP software. You may want to experiment with that as well in the future, but leave it for now and go straight to section 5. 

Section 5 starts by asking if you want to apply DRM and our advice (see our DRM article) is to leave it set on  ‘no’.  You can then click the browse button which opens a box where you can select the file you’ve decided to put up. The upload starts as soon as you cilck the file. Don’t panic if you click the wrong one: just wait for the upload to finish and try again. 

Uploading and converting takes a little while but when it’s done you can click “Preview book” to see how your book will look on a basic Kindle.  Wow! You’ve made an ebook. It really is that easy.

Amazon suggests, and we agree, that it’s worth downloading their previewer so that you can see how it looks on different devices because they don’t all interpret the file in the same way.  If you have a Kindle e-reader or app, it’s also worth downloading the preview file and side-loading it there.  That way you’ll get a feel for how it looks for real on at least one device.

As you look through your ebook, you’ll probably find various things that aren’t quite the way you wanted. These are probably caused by you having made made things look right in Word in ways that the conversion process doesn’t understand.  For example, indents tend to go wrong if you’ve used the tab key to create them. It’s much better to use the “indent first line” facitily built into Word. Other common problems are connected with page breaks, chapter headings and extra line spaces inserted in the text to show the passage of time.

All these issues can be fixed relatively easily. The help section of KDP offers good suggestions on sorting out the formatting of your Word file, and a quick Google search will show up plenty of other advice online. 

Hopefully, you’ve now got enough confidence to have a go at creating your own ebook when you’re finally ready to publish. There’s nothing to be lost by having a go. You can always turn to an expert for help later  if you run into problems you can’t fix.

Steve and Diana Kimpton

DRM

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and is the name for any mechanism intended to stop the pirating and redistribution of digital files.  The methods vary depending on the type of file, but all DRM systems have one thing in common – they don’t really do the job for which they’re intended! Continue reading

Behind the scenes in an ebook

We all know that an ebook is a book you read on screen instead of on paper. But what is it behind the scenes? What’s in that file you download and what do you need to include when you make one?

(Note to technophobes: What follows is quite technical and is only aimed at those who are interested. You don’t need to understand it if you’re using conversion software on KDP or Draft2Digital to create your ebook.) Continue reading