DIY Publishing in Archaeology Part 1: Formatting

Posted on September 5, 2014

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My last post talked about the different components of publishing and what you want to get out of it. If you have reviewed all the different factors and decided that you want to do DIY publishing this post, and some of the following ones, will take you through most of the considerations. It could also be that your publisher does not cover everything you need or asks you to undertake some of the work, usually marketing the book, so you need to do some of it yourself.

Formatting

Before you write anything you must make a decision about the format(s) you want your book to be in. Here are the most common formats and some issues to be aware of:

  • Print- as in a paper based book. The actual format is now some sort of digital Word Processing or Publishing software.
  • PDF– pretty much everyone is familiar with the PDF. It is the defacto standard for ‘digital prints’ of papers and books.
  • eBook- There are two major standards:
    • Kindle- MOBI. This effectively only works with Kindle e-readers. No one else has really accepted this format but Amazon
    • EPUB is pretty much the standard used by everyone else. Apple books are EPUBs and the B&N Nook uses that format.
  • HTML i.e. webpages/website.
  • Other- there are other formats but almost none of them are widely used. Moreover, they tend to be slight variations of these formats e.g. ibooks is a version of EPUB.

Formatting Determines Writing

The format(s) you choose determines how you write. Kindle, for now, does not allow footnotes, and there are other issues with other formats. But beyond that there are some serious issues for users of the different formats. With HTML and ebooks you can hyperlink words so that when someone clicks on that word(s) they will be taken to the webpage or even another page in the book. With print you can’t do that, you need to write out the whole link so people can read it and enter it into a browser by hand. Hyperlinks can also have a huge impact on reader experience. If they have a touch screen that requires someone to tap or swipe the screen to change the page they could accidentally click the link. This annoys me to no end with my Kindle touch. You really need to think about user experience.

Style, the Root of All Evil

More importantly, formatting will determine styling (bold, header 1, italics, etc). You will quickly run into problems when you go to convert your words into different formats because of how each format deals with style. The text is fine but anything beyond raw text starts to cause problems. For example, Apple has different fonts that can be used in Pages but not in Microsoft word. Some ebooks have a limited range of fonts that they will use. Depending on the version of Kindle, you use, some only have a few fonts so even if you found the perfect font when it goes into the Kindle it may come out as the default font i.e. not the font you want. Not as bad of an issue for more modern readers who will keep the font in some cases, but then there’s the issue of people changing the font. With all browsers and some e-readers you can change the font you see and override the default settings so they won’t see what you want them to see.

Microsoft Word, both the Promised land and one of the twelve plagues of writers

Yes, there are many better graphic programs out there for layouts, design, etc. But, modern Word easily provides all the required layout and design features to make an excellent books. Sure you can’t make an illuminate manuscript but most books don’t do that anyways. You can get Publisher quality books with Word, it won’t be the best but almost indistinguishable from many other books. Essentially, everyone who writes in Archaeology uses Word or Mac (Pages) or Open Source Alternatives (Office Libre) because everyone else uses them. If you are doing an edited volume you need to standardize the format everyone uses and that usually means– Word.

There are other alternatives like Microsoft Publisher, Adobe InDesign, and Quark Xpress. They are essentially better design programs but they have issues, just like Word.

Conversion Does Not Work

Word sucks when it comes to converting to any other formats, except PDFs. For the love of literature don’t use the ‘save as HTML’ feature in word. It produces crap code, nothing you would ever want to use on a website or webpage. It can be ok with making Kindle books but Pages, Apples word processing program, is much better for making EPUB. You simply can’t write up and design your book or paper in Word and then try to convert it to all the other formats. Even Publisher programs run into the same problem. For example, at the current moment Adobe InDesign does not export to Kindle. You can use these programs to design amazing looking print books, PDFs, and EPUB books but still run into problems converting them to Kindle.

There are programs out there that are supposed to do conversions. There is Calibre which can convert formats. You can have Amazon converting PDFs to Kindle formats too. However, if you use a special font or even special characters in your writing i.e. scientific notation, it may not work. Moreover, depending on what program the work was first written you can end up with all sorts of errors. I have had some success with Calibre but not a lot. This is especially true with PDFs were the image keeps the styles but the underlying text is in a format most converts can’t understand.

Solutions

You have several options to deal with these formatting issues. One is to convert all of your writing into XML. A format that looks something like this:

<Paragraph>

<sentence> words </sentence>

<sentence> more words </sentence>

blah blah blah

<Paragraph>

This can be easily converted to almost any format you want. In fact, when you send in your papers to commercial journal publishers* they send your Word Documents and PDFs to India or somewhere else with very cheap labor. There they are converted into this format and then sent it back to be styled. You can do the exact same thing. Convert all of your writing into XML. It will allow you to style and convert your writing into any format.

If you have no idea what I am talking about when I say XML then don’t worry there are alternatives.

  • You could write all of your work in a text document. Think writing your book in Notepad or some other text editor** or convert from Word to text. This text is much easier to convert to different formats but will take some work to restyle each format.
  • Word or Pages or other word processor. So there is nothing wrong with using any of these programs per say. It just means you have to spend a ton of time going back through conversions and fixing all the weird and annoying ways each program screws up the others format and style. In some cases, like with Word to HTML, it means making the HTML by hand and just copying and pasting the text.
  • You can pay someone to handle all of the formatting issues and not care about this at all.

Basically, you aim for a style neutral format and then style each individual format after conversion. This can be very time consuming.

Not A Solution for Everything

Though these solutions will not solve the issue of footnote with Kindle, hyperlinks with print, etc. Yes, you can remove hyperlinks for e-books but then you under use the format. Basically, it is a print book in a digital format, not a digital book.

If you want to convert to all formats you end up with just text and images with no styling whatsoever and no use of any sort of literary tool, like a footnote. Otherwise you need to spend  time, sometimes an exorbitant amount of time, styling and editing each different format. It may get better in the future and all platforms will be able to seamlessly convert to every other format. However, until that occurs you need to think very carefully about the formats you want. Remembering that some formats are locked into certain vendors. iBooks will only play on Apple products. I can’t make the decision about which format you use for you. You need to decide if you want to reach everyone, take advantage of certain features (hyperlinks), etc.

You need to plan this out in advance. It is not as simple as saying, ‘Oh, hey I will convert my PDF to Kindle after I have published the PDF’. It may not convert or if it does the styling may make it look horrible. You can essentially end up styling from scratch each book format you plant to make. Plan ahead.

Next Up, Images

That ends part one of DIY publishing in archaeology, looking mainly the format of a book. The next post will look at images.

 

*large publishers like Springer and Wiley Blackwell.

** Notepad is ok but there are many better text editors out there. I use GEDIT.

 

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