E-book typography questions

Quick background: I was once a typographer, back in the old days before it was done in MS Word, and I am picky. But I am also not at all experienced in what’s going to work in my e-books. (Have just gotten rights back from publisher.)

I know that I pretty much have to do the text in Times New Roman. Sigh. (Oh did I mention that I am kind of a font snob?)

But here is what I want: Full justification, except for the last line of the paragraph, and I also want interword and intraword spacing. I don’t want rivers, I don’t want big gaps. If there are only two words on a line I don’t want one all by itself on the right margin and the other all by itself on the left, I want those words to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. The way they do in all ebooks published by amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, for instance. Other publishers do it right, most self-publishers don’t.

I am failing. Any suggestions?

Now what I do is start with MS Word, save it as html, then convert it using Calibre. While I know what I want, I don’t know how to get it. Instead of using Word I could also start with WordPerfect (which, as a desktop publisher, did this interword/intraword thing a lot better than most, certainly better than Word), or InDesign, but I figured it didn’t matter since it was all going to be html at the end of the day.

As long as I’m wishing, I would also like the reader opening the book for the first time to land on the first page of Chapter 1.

Oh, and a pony. And world peace.

If you have InDesign, you could try reading this.

Which part are you having trouble with? MS Word does do interword spacing automatically. Intraword isn’t automatic, but you can do it manually.

Perhaps I’m not sufficiently familiar with ebooks. Who controls the width of a page? If you control it, then manual adjustments may be tedious, but at least it works. If the reader controls it, then I see why you would need something dynamic and on-the-fly.

If I could start life over again, one of the things I might do is to take some courses to learn this kind of stuff.

I’m at the level where I hate fonts that don’t distinguish between the numeral “one” and a lower-case “L”. And I despise on-screen fonts that make the lower case “RN” (“rn”) look like a lower-case “M” (“m”).

But the finer points are beyond me. I’ve been to enough websites that make specific complaints (like the ones I just made), but to slam an entire font by name requires a level of understanding and feeling that I have not yet acquired.

But, but, aren’t today’s e-books designed to be viewed on multiple platforms? Aren’t e-book typefaces and font sizes and justification chosen by the (human) reader when using their e-reader? My Kobo doesn’t offer kerning options, AFAIK.

What I mean is, are you sure that (human) readers will actually see the font and page layout you are so carefully choosing?

And, most of all, isn’t the content the important part? :wink:

Content is indeed the most important part. And probably most people will not actually notice the typography.

But on the other hand, good typography is designed not to be noticed. You only notice when it’s bad. You might not even notice, but subliminally, some e-books are harder to read than others, and it’s not always the content.

And yes e-readers are all different, and somewhat customizable by the user.

I think what I’m looking for is a way to code in intraword/interword space flexibility in HTML. It is done; it is being done, but not by many.

What I’m getting, on my Kindle, is, for instance, 5 lines that are full justified, and you can see that interword spacing is in there. And then four lines that are not justified.

Except in Thomas & Mercer products. They have figured out how to stretch the words when necessary. That’s what I want.

I don’t recall seeing this on Nook, but then, I don’t usually read books on Nook.

Word actually doesn’t do it very well, and you have to fuss with it. As a desktop publisher, WordPerfect did a great job on this.

But in order to make it an e-book I have to put it in HTML, which I am doing from Word, and I don’t even know if it makes a difference how it was set up in Word.

(The end user controls the width of a page, and also how many lines are on it and the type size, and–at least on my Kindle–I can pick compressed type or sans serif type in addition to the default.)

If you can break the encryption (which is possible, but I’m not sure I can tell you how in this forum), you could get a look at the code they actually use to pull this off.

If you can find an open ebook or even webpage that does it right, that would probably be even better.

There’s also always sending them an email praising them for the work they do. Maybe they’ll be so proud of it that they’ll be willing to share how they do it, if it’s not something proprietary. It could just be some program they use that they’d be glad to recommend, for instance.

Ah, for the good old days when artisans of all sorts actually gave a damn about their art, down to the veriest petty detail! Everything is just all going downhill since then.

I wasn’t aware of any word-processing type of programs that would deal with justifying down to the level of interword spacing. Nor have I ever heard of an automated system that could detect and prevent rivers. I did compose a few user manuals using Word Perfect, back in the bad old DOS days (so no WYSIWYG graphic user interface), and I liked that system very much.

ETA: In my more recent (last 20 years or so) computer programming work, using a programming language where capital and lower case letters are completely interchangeable, I got into the habit of using a capital letter L everywhere in variable names even though it would normally be a lower-case ell. For exactly the reason you stated: When displayed on screen, one couldn’t distinguish it a lower-case ell from a Capital I (Eye). Screw that shite.

BTW: Obligatory relevant XKCD!

I don’t think you are going to get the results you want. As mentioned, any of the major readers allow for several things; adjustment of type size, choice of typeface, and fitting to different device screen sizes and resolutions. All of these changes will in course completely change the presentation of the text. Further, Calibre may be additionally confusing the situation by applying formatting choices of its own.

To my mind, your best bet would be to use typographical tools that can manipulate the text with the intention of saving or exporting directly into ePub or AZW formats. And in this day and age, that would be InDesign. To have any hope of the control you want, you’d probably need to create a version for every device you intend to support. Even then, if the user change typeface or size, or even rotates the device horizontally, you’re back to being hosed.

The only way to preserve the detail in the presentation layer as you hope would be to export a PDF. That’s sub-optimal as reading PDFs on these devices is a poor experience to say the least.

Word processor? No. But InDesign’s multi-line composer engine will do the above.

LaTeX on Emacs — or Vim — always sounds tremendous fun.

false smile

LaTeX is for lazy poseurs. For ultimate typographical control you want pure, unadulterated TeX.

You could write SDML in the obsolete, obscure DECDocument as I do, which is a command-line (of course!) front-end for TeX. Then I run a program of my own which applies some fixups to the generated PostScript, and then I run it through Acrobat (with genuine Helvetica, Times Roman, etc.) to come up with something like this.

I spent 6 years or so in the late 70’s/early 80’s in commercial typography, first as an in-house technician for a shop, and later as a support rep for the system vendor.

thanks! I needed tha t!

Ouch. To be honest this sounds like trying to write cursive using a sharpie fastened to a remote control car.
As others have already said, Word is less than brilliant at actual desktop publishing. Putting it into HTML drops another level of intelligence out of the equation AND forces you to rely on Word’s HTML converter.
Calibre is actually very good at a lot of things, but still adds another layer of conversion logic chewing on the remains of your original formatting.
Which format are you eventually converting into? EPUB or AZW/MOBI? Not sure how smart the different converters are and what each format actually supports.

Once you’ve actually got into the end format, you’re then a complete prisoner of what the end user is reading on and how they have set it up. I buy kindle ebooks and randomly switch back and forth between Paperwhite, and using Kindle apps on iPhone, TouchPad and NookHD+ (both tablets now running android).

BigT has a great suggestion - try taking apart an ebook that works and see if you can figure out how they did it. Also if you haven’t already found it check out the forums at mobileread.com, they have a lot of e-book ninjas there who know how to wrestle Kindle Direct Publishing into submission. And in general, the closer you can get to laying things out in the final target file format and the fewer conversion steps the better control you will have.

Personally I am just happy when I get an book free of homonyms, typos, weird formatting artifacts, partial sentences etc. etc. One with reasonably competent typography would be amazing!

OP: I have a similar background as you, and the same priorities. These days, I don’t think you could improve on what you’d get with InDesign.

Sadly, some things were easier to fix 50 years ago than today.

Well, you can do exceptionally high quality typography with InDesign, but the problem here is the new e-document formats that separate the content from the presentation layer mean that a substantial chunk of control is taken from the typographer, and placing split control over those decisions in the hands of the user in conjunction with the software.

A book designer never had to worry about a reader rotating the book horizontally, insisting that the type get 50% larger, or that the page size might change depending on where the reader was sitting in their house. All of those decisions have to be made on the fly, and in many cases, on hardware platforms with very limited computing power.

From what I remember with using CreateSpace, you’ll get a preview of what your book will look like when it sees print. You can go back and fix and resubmit.

I’ve used fonts other than TNR. If you want a truly funky font as a label or something, you could type it in Paint and save it as a JPG, then insert it like you would an image.

I’ve never tried this, but in MS Word 2010 you can go into File>Options>Advanced, scroll to the very bottom, look for “Lay out this document as if created in:” and choose Word Perfect from the drop-down list.