Designers are not always coders, and I’m not sure NY publishing has figured this out. I was wandering through some coding forums and stumbled across a post by a frustrated employee of one of the NY publishers pleading for help on converting an InDesign file to the various ebook formats.
(Adobe InDesign is the program used to design the interior of a book for print publication.)
She let loose a rant at how customers are blaming them for missing and added spaces and various other errors in ebooks, for which she blamed the conversion programs and threw up her hands.
Okay. I’m not yelling. I just have to say this big and bold because it’s an important point.
There exists NO automatic program that will convert a document to .mobi, .epub or Kindle format with both forward and backward compatibility. And automatic conversions will introduce formatting errors on various devices and various formats.
It’s a bear, but the only way to get a well-designed ebook product that looks professional and renders perfectly on all devices and in all formats is to hand-code it—and to hand-code each separate format.
(If you don’t know, this is what hand-coding is. In a nutshell, it’s knowing what you’re doing and not relying on a program to know it for you.)
The book designers in NY publishing either need to hire hand-coders, or they need to put up with the fact that their ebook products will be sloppy and inferior in comparison to those smaller publishers and indie publishers who hire people to hand-code ebooks.
People have been saying that the conversion script for the latest release of InDesign is better, but if you’re a Kindle owner and you’ve read those $9.99-12.99 ebooks put out by the major New York publishers this year, you may have noticed the “36 highlights” in random paragraphs.
OMG. So. Irritating. Like every other page, there’s suddenly 52 highlights in a paragraph, icky dotted underlines and all.
Would people put up with random errors and extra junk in print books? This is why those who read digitally feel like NY publisher’s ugly stepchildren instead of those who read print who are NY publisher’s preferred children.
That’s not to say the big publishers haven’t done some beautiful work in recent years. Sometimes they experiment and it’s clear when an ebook is given the design and coding attention it deserves. For example, Tor’s Kindle edition of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey is more beautiful than the print edition!
Most top websites are coded by hand. In fact, even the New York Times eschews Dreamweaver and codes by hand for their website:
It’s our preference to use a text editor, like HomeSite, TextPad or TextMate, to “hand code” everything, rather than to use a wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) HTML and CSS authoring program, like Dreamweaver. We just find it yields better and faster results.
With clean, hand-coded websites, you’re not going to get a bunch of extra junk that WYSIWYG editors put in. And the cleaner your code, the more likely it will render correctly in all the major browsers, including the older versions and the new versions yet to come.
With clean, hand-coded ebooks, you get the same benefits. The cleaner your code, the more likely it will render correctly in all the major e-reading devices, both the older ones and the new ones yet to come.
Even better if you hire a hand-coder who can code with respect to the various quirks on the different devices and stores.
For those who self-publish, this is definitely an area in which you can stand out as more professional than your traditional-published competition.
So hire me! Kidding. Well, not really. I hope you will! I’ve just been so busy with coding books for people, I haven’t had time to put up an information site about it yet.
For realz, though, I’ve got several posts on Kindle Formatting to help you, if you want to give it a go yourself. Joshua Tallent has an awesome book, The Complete Guide to Kindle Formatting, which is the one you want to get. (Most others are junk.) I have yet to find a book as good as Tallent’s on Epub Formatting.
So there’s my rant for the day. It boggles my mind how the NY publishers can complain that we don’t want to pay $12.99 for an ebook, and they can’t even bother to put out a product that is free of GLARING, intrusive errors.