What stupid is

illustration of four cats, one of which is wearing a dunce cap

I was sitting on my couch hoarding a “Sharing Size” box of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and clicking and re-clicking “x new Tweets” this evening, when I was rescued by a friend who was having some technical difficulty with an e-book she was building. A few of our Twitter friends made suggestions on how to troubleshoot the issue, and I did, too, but to no avail. I asked to see the file, she e-mailed it, and not only did the file also crash on my machine, but it caused a seemingly permanent crash-on-launch issue with Adobe Digital Editions, the application we were trying to view it in. I use ADE every day, as I borrow a shocking quantity of e-books from the New York and Brooklyn public libraries, so this was not a crash I could just ignore.
Continue reading “What stupid is”

It ain’t up goer science

view of the ground from a rocket high in the air

After two years as a full-time e-book developer, I’m back on the print wagon—or, at least, one foot is—working for CN Times Books as (executive?) managing editor of print and digital production. CN Times is a wholly owned subsidiary of Beijing MediaTime Book Co., and about half of its staff members are Chinese, with several being located in Beijing.

Among the position’s more entertaining challenges is occasionally being called upon to explain industry jargon from printers’ estimates or freelancers’ invoices to colleagues whose primary language is not English. Last week, it was “jacket mechanical.” Today, it was “stock imagery.” And then I found myself writing an omnibus invoice-troubleshooting sort of e-mail explaining the varied uses of “manuscript,” “copy,” “proof,” “copyediting,” and “proofreading.”
Continue reading “It ain’t up goer science”

PDFs in EPUBs: Test results

Trojan Horse

What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, wherein all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate!

—Homer, Odyssey (translated by A.T. Murray, 1919)

A couple of weeks ago, Hugh McGuire tweeted this:

and then he blogged the replies he received at Including a PDF in an EPUB.

This is something I’d been wondering about for a while, too. I remembered Joshua Tallent of eBookArchitects mentioning at at least one workshop that it was possible to embed a PDF in an EPUB, but I’d never tried it. The company I work for publishes a lot of craft books whose print editions have patterns and templates in the back, and so far we’ve either had to suppress the e-book versions entirely or supply those patterns to our e-book readers through the Web. Hugh’s post reminded me that I’d been meaning to test Joshua’s tip to see if it would help solve our pattern problem, so I finally just did that.

TL;DR: Yes, you can embed a PDF in an EPUB so that all its pages are viewable in iBooks and Adobe RMSDK–based readers, but display is wonky and not necessarily readable, and you can’t print the PDF at full size, if at all, so it doesn’t solve my particular problem. It might solve your problems, though, so a more detailed breakdown of what I found follows. Continue reading “PDFs in EPUBs: Test results”

Degristling the sausage

One of the things I do at my job is clean up and beautify e-books that have been produced by a “meatgrinder”—the sort of automated conversion process that an outsourcer uses. My company has worked with a couple of conversion companies, and there are definite differences in the quality and markup philosophy of the files they produce, but one problem that appears to be chronic is that the EPUBs come back with CSS files containing tons of unused style declarations.

I’m talking thousands of lines, when two to three hundred will usually do.

This makes the files extremely tedious to troubleshoot and rework, so one of the first things I usually do if I know I’m going to be spending a considerable chunk of my day living in a particular EPUB is to cut down that stylesheet to what’s actually being used.

Continue reading “Degristling the sausage”

E-reading application showdown, part 2: Typography

Early-twentieth-century photo of two women boxing

Cross-posted at Digital Book World. Part 1 is also on both this site and DBW.

When I first decided to try reading an e-book on my iPod Touch, I assumed—since I’ve been designing and typesetting book interiors for more than a decade and have strong opinions about what makes text readable and appealing—that poor typography would be my biggest complaint about the e-reading applications I tried. In the event, it turns out that as with print books, I’m much more tolerant of ugly, poorly set text than I expected. Just as I’m capable of losing myself in the pages of a cramped, blurry mass-market paperback if the story is one I want to read, so, too, can I block out consciousness of the less-than-ideal typography of an e-book viewed on a small screen. In fact, though I haven’t tried to empirically test this theory, I believe I might read novels faster on my iPod than I used to do on paper. Or maybe I comprehend better, or remember more of what I read.

Still, I’d rather have the option of making the text look good, and if an e-book’s appearance seriously offends me, I’m batty enough to crack it open and change it. I now actually get paid to do this, which sometimes feels like I’ve hit upon the best scam ever. (Other times, not so much. See below under anchovies.)

Continue reading “E-reading application showdown, part 2: Typography”

E-reading application showdown, part 1: Annotations


About two weeks ago, in a fit of pique, I posted some gripes about my current e-reading application of choice, which is Kobo for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I was pressed for time, so I didn’t provide any context, such as why Kobo’s is my favorite e-reading app, which apps I’ve chosen it over, and whether the things I find awesome and annoying about it are unique to Kobo or are universal across the e-reading–on–iOS world right now.

Here, finally, is the first in a series of posts providing that context. Specifically, I’ll be walking through five of the e-reading applications I’ve used on the iPod Touch, explaining what I see as the pros, cons, and OMFG-what-were-they-thinkings of each.

Continue reading “E-reading application showdown, part 1: Annotations”

Because I am mean and like to rain on parades…

A parade in the rain

All day I’ve been seeing tweets from @kobo and friends about their having the No. 1 e-reading app in the iTunes store—e.g.,

Breaking News: Kobo #1 Rated eReading App on iTunes App Store http://t.co/pApB8j5
Jason Gamblen | Kobo

I’m so happy for them.

No, really.

For several months now, Kobo’s iOS app has been, mainly because of the stats and the activity tracker, my e-reading application of choice. That said, it’s my app of choice in spite of several intense annoyances, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a couple of things that drive me up the fucking wall about it. From the support ticket I just submitted:

Continue reading “Because I am mean and like to rain on parades…”

What happens when an e-book gets corrected?

"No Parking" sign with the "n" inserted belatedly

So, here’s the partial answer to a question I’ve been wondering about:

Subject: Kindle Title [title] (ASIN:[ASIN]) has an available update

Greetings from Amazon.com.

We’re writing about your past Kindle purchase of [title] by [author]. The version you received contained some errors that have been corrected.

An updated version of [title] (ASIN:[ASIN]) is now available. It’s important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word “Yes” in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.

You can find more information about Kindle related topics at our Kindle support site below.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your business with Amazon.

Customer Service Department

It’s a book I’ve already read, so I went to kindle.amazon.com to see if I had made any annotations. Turns out it’s one I’ve got multiple copies of (it was a freebie in all the major e-book stores for a while), so my markup’s on some other version. (If I’ve actually read an e-book, there is always markup; this is one of the biggest changes e-books have made to my reading habits.) I wrote back and said, “Yes.”

Continue reading “What happens when an e-book gets corrected?”

Cracking the coding code

Woman in 1940s garb standing in front of a huge machine with lots of rotors

Got an e-mail from a fellow book designer this morning asking, “Do you have a blog post about marking up a MS for the designer/typesetter?” Um, I couldn’t remember; had to search my own blog to find out. I found I’d written two posts in which such issues come into play—

  • May I take your order? (September 30, 2006)—in which I show the sample pages I prepared to instruct a typesetter on a moderately complicated book design
  • How stylish are you? (January 19, 2008)—in which I listed and explained the most common style names I use when marking up or laying out a bookish document

But both of these posts are written from the designer’s desk, whereas my friend was, he later explained, looking for information that might help a fledgling editor (in this case, an editorial intern) understand how to mark up a manuscript. To which I said, “Um, hello, the Chicago Manual?” I know there’s some discussion of markup right there in the front, but I realized I hadn’t consulted that section in the 15th edition in years, and I hadn’t yet checked it in the 16th edition at all. So I looked! And found that there is now a sizable chunk of appendix devoted to markup, with an eye toward producing multiple output formats—print, HTML, e-books, and more. That appendix is heavy going, though, and more theoretical than practical. How might a designer or production editor explain, in, say, under twenty minutes, how a clever intern should mark up a manuscript?

Continue reading “Cracking the coding code”

“you will need to pick an attractive font”


An amazing opportunity! If only I were a cover designer . . .

Book Cover Designer Needed For Regular Work (Anywhere)

Date: 2010-09-13, 9:43AM EDT
Reply to: job-u6jz9-1951195804@craigslist.org

We are looking for a book cover designer for regular work. Have 10 book covers that will need to get done immediately.

Note that we will provide the background to use for each cover, you will need to pick an attractive font (some will be provided) as well as colors to match the background, position the titles appropriately and make sure the PDF file meets our formatting requirements.

Thus, no original design other than text and minor boxes here and there will be required.

Will have regular work. Pay is $15 per cover. Will have dozens of them every week. Payment through Paypal.

The following are required:

  1. Ability to work fast and meet deadlines.
  2. Illustrator/Photoshop Skills
  3. Good eye for fonts/colors and the ability/passion for making beautiful covers
  4. Excellent communication skills and availability by Skype email.

If interested please email with:

  2. Resume.
  3. At least two relevant design samples
  4. A paragraph on why you think you’d be a good match for us.

Thank you for your time!

  • Location: Anywhere
  • Compensation: $15 per Cover (Paypal)
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

PostingID: 1951195804

(Spotted in new york craigslist > manhattan > jobs > art/media/design jobs by No. 2 Pencil.)

Photo: darts by sethstoll / Seth Stoll; some rights reserved.