About Fonts


When creating an e-book, you should not attempt to make the body of the text conform to your latest fancy font.  The platform and the reader’s preferences should, and mostly will, prevail anyway.  Save the fancy font for the front matter of your book and the chapter and title headings.  Other than making sure that it is legible, you can use a font which will add distinction to your e-book. The problem, though, is that many older and more primitive readers, such as the original Kindles, will not use your fonts and will respond to a change in font size or italics only.  Too bad for us, because the page then becomes bland and ordinary.

The other issue is concerning the old bugaboo, the copyright.  Yes, many fonts, even ones resident on your computer, may not be used commercially without authorization.  That means a fee, in case you are wondering. The other issue is that postscript fonts will not be displayed by all e-readers.  You should use, therefore, a TrueType font.  The TrueType was developed early in the 80’s by a joint effort between Microsoft and Apple.

Don’t be discouraged, however, because there are many places on the web to obtain free, copyright free, fonts in the TrueType style.  http://www.fontsquirrel.com has both free fonts and a converter for changing nearly any font to a TrueType.  You have to be sure that the font you use from your own system is in fact free to use before you proceed.  Fonts that you select should be installed in the folder that you are using and will be called by your style sheet (more on this later.)

By the way, sizing your font in HTML is different than in a word processor and once you get used to the idea and technique, far easier and more reliable.  As I mentioned previously, I recommend that you purchase Guido Henkel’s book, Zen of eBook Formatting.  He lays it out for you concerning font use.  We both recommend use of the em sizing method, as you shall see.

So far, in this and the previous blog, I keep postponing detail with the “more on this later.”  The reason is that I will present all the necessary information in one spot to keep you from digging through the text to find the next step.

There is one more thing I would like to mention about fonts.  The first letter of a new chapter is, by custom, larger and florid, or at least descendent into the following line. It does look better than simply starting the chapter with an ordinary letter.  I have two methods that have worked for me and both have good and bad issues.  The first method is to use a fancy font, larger in size with no indent.  This method works well in most cases, but there are problems, particularly with the Apple readers. The other alternative also works well with your printed book. With this method you will need the imaging software we discussed earlier.  I use Photoshop but other products will work.  The font is converted to an image (jpg) and sized slightly larger than you will require.  After inserting the image into your html file, the image is sized using the em method, your text starting on the same line.  I will include an example of this in the final blog on this topic.

Alexander Francis

Some Pointers Regarding Tools


As you know, the first thing you need to write a book is a good word processor, one that is simple enough to allow concentration on your ideas and not the struggle with software.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter at an early stage which word processor you choose. At a later date, you will be able to export the text  to a more comprehensive and complex environment.

Bad habits are hard to break, but I’ll name a few that you would be wise to overcome while writing.  Never use tabs to format your text. They will give you problems later. Same with spaces.  I always struggle with the temptation to add two, sometimes three spaces after a period.  To me, it just looks better.  But they are hard to deal with later, so take my advice and avoid overuse of spaces.  You should learn to use the style sheet concept to set your text in the position you want.  You can rename the styles or create your own, but, whatever you do, be consistent from book to book.  If you use style names that are easily remembered, you will find the conversion to HTML a breeze. Don’t get carried away with chapter numbers or names during the early phases of writing your book, and postpone formatting for style and font until the last. It’s much easier later, and since you will be more consistent after the book is complete, it will lead to fewer errors.

After many years of using Windows, I switched to the Mac.  I love Apple products and wouldn’t go back for gold, but Pages has limitations.  You will find that you require a fully featured word processor as you near completion of your manuscript. An example is the use of headers and footers which differ on odd and even pages. That, of course, doesn’t apply to an e-book format which cannot use headers or footers.  Converting your document to an HTML file requires functions that Pages doesn’t supply.  On the advice of some very enthusiastic supporters of free software, I tried two alternatives: LibreOffice and OpenOffice.  Both are fully featured and free, but I just couldn’t get comfortable with either one of them. Against my inner instinct, I paid for a version of MS Word for my Mac. It crashes frequently for no reason, has a long list of quirks, is overly complex and exasperatingly poorly written for a product so long on the market.  Nevertheless, it works and, with patience and some insight, will produce a flawless copy of your book for print and make the transition to HTML possible.

My advice is to not use the feature Word offers of conversion to HTML.  It includes more text than you want to deal with and produces a file of ponderous size.  You simply want to go from a word processor file to a text file in HTML format.  Bringing in your work with styles already imbedded saves a tremendous effort later. My workflow  had been reduced to the following simplified overview:

1. Replace all double quotation marks with “.  Sounds ridiculous but the step will find errors that you didn’t know you have.  It turns out that there are three characters which look like quotation marks and are hard to detect when in a text file.  Same thing for single quotation  marks.

2. Remove any tab characters.

3. Remove spaces, except for single spaces.

3. Using the search and replace functions in Word,  bracket the text marked with a certain style with the name of the style (more later on this).

4. Using the advanced search and replace, bracket each paragraph with the HTML code <p>your text here</p>.  The same goes for italics. More on this later also.

4. Select the entire document and copy and paste it into a text processor. I suggest TextMate.

Now you are done with your word processor, but be sure and save any changes into a separate file for possible later corrections.

As you can see, so far the process is not challenging.  The next steps are more complex, however, but you are well on your way to the creation of an e-book.  Congratulations!  To be continued….

Alexander Francis

Making An E-book


When I watch old movies about an author and his/her interaction with a publisher or an agent, I get jealous.  That’s what I thought it would be like, and of course, it does still happen that way for some writers.  You remember the scene I’m talking about.  The writer comes in with either a large folder or perhaps a cardboard box full of handwritten or poorly typed pages of his recent masterpiece, and they take it from there. Simple.

Now I (we) know that it doesn’t happen that way any more, at least for the likes of me and others like me.  Publishers and agents want a sure thing, a name, notorious or otherwise famous.  You and I are on our own in a strange world of competition and marketing.

After my first two books were printed (an entirely different but interesting story), I was proud as a new father to hold them, the physical manifestation of all that labor. To me, there is nothing which will ever replace the printed book. The feel of it, the smell of the pages, and the fact that it will last nearly forever makes a book a very desirable thing.  Nonetheless, there is a trend toward the electronic transmission of music, video, and books which is not going to go away.  Likely, both forms will co-exist for some time yet, but as an author, you will sell more books in electronic form than printed and make more money doing it.

Creating a perfect printed book is possible, but a perfect digital version is elusive. There are several versions of e-readers, some incompatible with each other.  Creating a book which can be read by all of them requires making your book more simple than you might want. The fancy font, in particular, is nearly the first thing lost.  To be sure, the requirements vary not only as to the individual device being used but also its size, its color, resolution and also its users’ whims. There is no universal solution, only  solutions of compromise.

Some organizations will claim that a writer only need to supply a .pdf or even a .doc version of their book, and their proprietary conversion software will turn it into a e-book.  Easy? Sure is tempting but don’t fully believe it. To get the best array of compromise and to be sure what your work is going to look like, it is best to get yourself involved  in the conversion process, and better still, to do it yourself.

You will need some help to start, most of which is available on the Web. By that, I mean the explanation of how to do a conversion, not the actual doing of it.  Be careful of where you send your valuable manuscript, and be sure and have it copyrighted before you release it to anyone. No exceptions.

If you are still interested, then I have some suggestions for reading. Obtain the Kindle book by Guido Henkel called “Zen of eBook Formatting.” Henkel gives an interesting and enthusiastic view of ebook creation.  I used this book to get started and to convince myself that I could do it. Be warned that his book is not a complete guide and has some omissions that will prevent you from actually producing a finished e-book on your own. It will, however,  give you a leg up and does provide a tremendous insight into the process.

In the  next installment of this series, I will give you a more detailed summary of problems I encountered, and my solutions.  Using this method, I have completed seven books so far, and they range in size from 75,000 to 135,000 words. Two are published and widely distributed for a variety of devices, and yes, both are also in printed format.


Alexander Francis