Let’s start by looking at a list of the most common Ebook problems. If you recognise a problem then you may have a quick solution coming up. We are looking at EPUB & MOBI files here, not fixed format PDFs.
There are links for all the essential information & software that you will need to be able to test your Ebook and make sure that it is working correctly before you put in front of your customers. All of the software links are to FREE applications that I have used and test on a Windows PC. I have not personally tested the Mac versions but if they work as well as the Wondows versions you should have no problems using them.
(The next part in this series will cover formatting and fixing your files in Microsoft Word.)
What are the most common problems with Ebook files?
- Chapter titles, Headers, and Sub-Headers Separated on Different Pages
- Titles not appearing as proper “Titles”
- Chapter Headers not appearing correctly: not centred; incorrect spaces above & below or Chapters not starting on a new page
- Unsightly Indentation or paragraph indents not appearing correctly
- Paragraph spacing not appearing correctly
- Strange Characters
- Overall aesthetics not good
- Random Blank Pages in the book
- Table of Contents missing or incorrect
- No NCX Table of contents when viewed on an E- reader
- Metadata incorrect or missing when viewed on an E- reader
- Cover size & / or resolution not correct
What causes these problems
There are only a few fundamental issues at the root of most of the common issues:
- Styles not used for each paragraph variation
Without Styles, a Table of Contents will not work correctly
- Many format variations using “overrides” instead of styles
- Paragraph markers used to create space between paragraphs
- Tabs used to create indents.
- Non Standard fonts used
How do you fix errors in an Ebook file
If you want to fix the problems AFTER the Ebook is generated you have a difficult task ahead of you as you will have to crack open the Ebook file and modify what is inside.
- Extract individual HTML files form the EPUB/MOBI file
- Check individual files for correct HTML and fix as needed
- Check “content.opf” that information is correct and correctly displayed. Fix as needed.
- Open and check the “toc.ncx” files and correct as needed to get correct display.
- Check CSS manually and fix as needed
- Check CSS with WC3 CSS validator and fix as needed
- For EPUB Check with EPUB validator for errors, & fix
- For MOBI Check with Kindlegen for errors, & fix
Clearly, when books have a lot of errors, it is not practical to fix the files at this level and the only sensible solution is to go back to the original word-processor file and restructure it BEFORE conversion and then convert to Ebook again.
If you cannot fix the file by editing your original then you will need to strip out all the formatting by copying the text into a plain “text processor” like Notepad or get into editing the HTML inside the Ebook.
How to get a good result!
Keep in mind here that “A Poorly Written book that is beautiful to look at will sell more copies than a well-written book that is poorly presented.” People DO judge a book by its cover and contents. Everything that you can do to make your cover and text look good will pay off in terms of sales!
If you want your book to look nice you have to make sure that you understand how to make your word-processor work for you, and that means knowing what it CAN do and learning how to do it. You may remember the well-known acronym from the computer business: “RTFM” (Read The … Manual).
Whatever word processor you use it will have plenty of Help Files built in, so if I don’t cover what you need for your specific software then, once you have an idea of what needs to be done, search for it in the manual, or online.
Two key steps
- Read the Guidelines provided by your Ebook retailer(s)
- You HAVE to test your Ebook files before your put them in front of your customers.
Whether you are planning to use MOBI or EPUB files you need to read whatever guidelines are provided by the retail site you plan to sell through. This will help you to avoid problems that are specific to their sites at the layout stage and may save you a lot of time and effort later
Testing your file is Vital! DO not skip this step!
You have to know how your customer will experience the book. If you find problems during testing you need to fix these before your customer sees them. It is the same a proofreading a printed copy of a book. Always proofread the input AND the output!
99% of the problems can be spotted and fixed if you read the thing again, and again.
If you don’t have a physical E-reader available to test the Ebook there are plenty of FREE E-readers available online: including the Kindle Previewer, Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions. (Links below.)
I guarantee that, even if you have read your book ten times, every time you read it again you will find something that needs to be fixed. Patience and Perseverance are really important at this stage. It helps if you are a bit OCD but if you find yourself dreading yet another re-read see if you can find a very picky friend to help out.
You need to go through as many cycles as needed of: “Convert – Test – Fix the problem…” until you are satisfied with the book. You need to be a harsh judge here and must be aware that anything that disrupts the reader’s “flow” can produce a negative effect.
If an Ebook has too many problems the reader may simply give up and never finish the book. You might be lucky if someone takes pity on you and sends you a message to let you know that the book is “Broken” and does not display correctly. They might also return the book for a refund. The follow-on from this is that a reader may never buy another of your books and may pass on a negative recommendation to all their friends. Or, perhaps worst of all, post a bad review on your retailer’s site or to their 000’s of social media followers! This can completely undermine your marketing efforts.
Preparing Kindle Books
Ideally, you need to acquire, read and follow the relevant bits of the Kindle Guidelines in “Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines”. If you have already looked at this you will know that it is not an easy read. It is an 86 page PDF file which focuses a lot on the HTML inside the book. If you don’t plan to modify your book at the HTML level you can always skip the coding bits, but try to read the text guidelines and cover guidelines to get the overview of what you need to do to format your text and cover to meet Kindle standards.
The second item that you will need is Kindle Previewer. You can use this to see how the book will appear with different Kindle devices before you upload to Amazon Kindle. This is an essential part of your Ebook production process.
Where to download
You can download the current version of the Kindle Publishing Guidelines (2014.3) from: http://kindlegen.s3.amazonaws.com/AmazonKindlePublishingGuidelines.pdf
You can find the Kindle previewer on this page. There are versions for both PC and MAC http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000729511
When you install the Kindle Previewer it has a lot of useful links inside which take you to help files on how to use Previewer. Here is what the start screen looks like.
Download & Read the “Smashwords-Style-Guide.epub” from this link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52
There is a lot of online help on the Smashwords site so it is worthwhile searching though the help files on the site if you run into problems
If you follow the guidelines you will get much better results and fewer rejected files. But you still have to remember that just because the file was “not rejected” does not make it a perfect result. All you have to do is compare one of your files with a file from a published work from one of the big publishers and spot the differences in ease of reading and style of presentation.
Testing an EPUB file
One of the most useful FREE online tools for EPUBS is Epubcheck a validation tool for EPUB. This allows you to upload an EPUB and have it checked for all the most common problems. It will tell you about any issues and you can go back to your original, fix it and resubmit. If you do a lot of books (more than 3 in a year) you need to download the program to have them checked locally, without uploading.
The first thing that Smashwords and other online EPUB retailers, will do when you upload a file to them is to run your file through Epubcheck. So if you do it first your book will not be rejected because it is incorrectly structured.
The downloaded version for Epubcheck is run from a “command line interface” so can be difficult to use if you are not familiar with working with that kind of software. So, what I recommend is another FREE utility that runs a “drag and drop” interface using the Epubcheck software behind the scenes. This is available from “Pagina” and has versions for both Windows and MAC. This is a breeze to use and can update to the latest version of Epubcheck from their menu.
Here is a screenshot of the “Pagina EPUB-checker” interface. You can either browse to the location of your EPUB file or drag & drop it into the box and it will do the job in seconds and list any problems it encounters.
When Problems are listed in Epubcheck…
The error list that you get when you have problems with a file are not always crystal clear and you may have to do a bit of searching on the web to understand what causes any specific error. If you get a message that is not readily understandable check on the EPubcheck website https://github.com/IDPF/epubcheck/wiki/Errors and see if they give more details before you start a wider web search.
Reading an EPUB file
If you do not have physical reader there are a number of FREE E-readers that you can download.
Where to download
Calibre e-book manager is probably one of the most useful FREE Ebook readers and managers available and it is available for Both Windows and MAC.
Adobe Digital Editions is also FREE and available for both Windows and MAC. You can download it from: http://www.adobe.com/solutions/ebook/digital-editions/download.html
The Online EPUB Validator is available at: http://validator.idpf.org/ If you want to use the downloadable version from your computer you need to be sure that you have Java installed. If you are an Expert user you can download the core Epubcheck software from: https://github.com/idpf/epubcheck
You can download the Pagina checker from http://www.pagina-online.de/produkte/epub-checker/#c1067.
This is a subject that I will return to in more detail later, as there are many converters available. In general, if you convert a Word document with, e.g., “MobiPocket creator” or some other converter, you will be able to read the output with a Kindle Reader. However, the output would not be considered as an “Ebook” by any professional formatter, even though Amazon will accept them and not report any problems. In general this type of conversion will produce what can only be described as a “broken Ebook”. You will need to examine every page in a reader to see where the problems lie and fix them in the original before converting again.
A better route is ti target an EPUB file first and get that to work. THEN, convert your final EPUB to MOBI using Kindlegen or just open it withKindle previewer and it will do the conversion for you and give you a list of any problems.
If you are using “Kindlegen” with an EPUB file you can get a pretty good output but you have to remember the old computer programmer’s mantra “Garbage in, Garbage out”. If the original file that is converted by Kindlegen is not properly formatted then the output will not change and be magically correct in all respects. Luckily Kindlegen gives you warnings about problems it finds during conversion and you have a chance to go back and fix them.
More Repetition about Testing…
Whatever program you use to convert your book, you have to use a program like the Epubcheck or Kindle Previewer to TEST the file!! Look at all the pages in the converted file, check out the Metadata, check that the Table of contents, both the embedded and the NCX versions, actually work and are displayed correctly.
The next part in this series will cover the first stages of formatting and fixing your files using Microsoft Word. This is not to say that Word is the best software to use to compose your E-books, it isn’t, but it is the most commonly used.
I have chosen Microsoft Word as it is probably the most common word-processor around, and nearly all other word-processors have very similar functions.
In December 2014 ntemarketshare.com published an update on the share of operating systems around the world and reported that 91.5% of all desktops were using some variety of Windows and 7.2% using some variety of Mac for their OS. A little earlier, in November 2014 Microsoft announced that there were over 1 billion people using their Office suite of apps, and now there are versions for every available operating system, including Apple’s IOS.
Hopefully this explains the focus on Windows and Word instead of Apple Mac and I hope that the information will work for most of you.
The previous posts in this series are here