Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There is no perfect

Wall of Navajo rugs, photo by lesliek, used with attribution, cc license

There is a story about Navajo (Dine) weavers: that they deliberately introduce an error in the weave, so as not to risk perfection. I did a little poking around the internet, but wasn't able to determine if this is a true cultural practice, or simply an apocryphal story. Regardless, it's an appealing idea, especially for someone as perfectionistic and self-critical as I am.

I pride myself on my careful eBook formatting. In fact, I even put together an illustrated how-to guide and have taught workshops at several SF&F conventions on eBook formatting, so perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking I was, while not an expert, at least competent. Over the past two years, I have devised and refined a workflow that creates both a well formed print version and a compliant eBook in both mobi and epub formats.

Or so I thought.

I had been flummoxed by returns on Amazon for my latest book, FUTURE TENSE. I posted about it on Google plus and I was extremely lucky that one of the readers took the time to leave a comment:  the mobi file was nearly unreadable on his Kindle because it cut off several letters on the right hand margins. He was able to read the book on his phone, and enjoyed the story, but had been frustrated by the formatting problem.


Believe me when I tell you I had tested the mobi file on multiple devices and on every reading app amazon has, including:

1st gen Kindle
Kindle fire
Kindle apps on an android tablet, PC,  and an iPod touch
all Kindle devices shown on the Kindle previewer (Kindle paperwhite, Kindle DX, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX, Kindle Fire HDX 8.9", Kindle for iPad, Kindle for iPhone)

(In fact, when I was working on the eBooks, I had more problems with the epub version, and the inability to get centered elements to center properly. Dealing with epubs is made more difficult by the lack of a good emulator for the Nook. But I am nothing if not stubborn, and was able to nail down that issue.)

Guess what physical device I didn't have? The Kindle keyboard.
Guess what device isn't emulated on the Kindle previewer? The Kindle keyboard.
Guess which device the gentleman who left the comment had? Yup. The Kindle keyboard.

Turns out, there's one line in my very simple css (cascading style sheet) that this particular device doesn't like. It's a setting for page width, that in the epub, ensures that centered elements are actually centered. I actually use a very simple stylesheet that I had thought I'd tested fully and adequately. I was wrong.

Here's the offending css:

 .body {
display: block;
width: 100%;
line-height: 1.2;
padding: 0;}

Taking out the width statement fixed the problem.

I was able to have a patient colleague test file after file until I found that one little width command. She celebrated with me when I sent her a clean, fully readable file.

My take home messages: 
  • No matter how careful you are, it's nearly impossible to create an error-free product
  • Testing on emulators is a first step, but not the only step. Until there are consistent standards across all eReaders, testing on as many physical readers as possible is the only solution
  • Do your best and don't beat yourself up for mistakes, but correct them as soon as you are aware of them
  • As soon as you think you've got a workflow that works, something in the industry will change
  • Try to keep a sense of humor
(A final note: If any of you purchased the Kindle version of FUTURE TENSE in the past few weeks and haven't been notified by Amazon, please go to your 'manage my kindle' dashboard and update the file. I've corrected the error and the new version is live.)

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