Humanus Feed
Obsessed with books, eBooks, marketing, & chocolate.

eBook Covers: Screen Fonts vs. Print Type

July 16th, 2012 . by Peggy

Bad font choices can make or break your eBook cover design.

Are you designing your own eBook cover? Great! Here’s how to choose a font for the title and other text on your cover.

(And BTW< this is not something that’s worth obsessing over. You have a lot going on right now – and obviously, your first concern needs to be writing a great eBook.)

The difference between a screen font and a print typeface deals with the intricacies of readability and the science of typography. A screen font is one that’s designed to work and read well from a screen, versus a typeface that is designed for print, and not to be read on a screen at all. It’s a common mistake to not realize the difference, and use a screen font on an eBook cover, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

I should mention that the very word “font” is actually only used to describe the set of files that compose a screen font – not the typeface that is meant for print. Typography geeks might get on your back about that.

Screen (or web) fonts are meant to be readable in reflowable text situations, and represent well in what are generally lower resolutions on a screen. These fonts have different spacing attributes, meaning the spacing between letters, between the “legs” of each letter, and any enclosed areas, such as the gap in the middle of an “A”. Screen fonts are also meant to scale well and look good at both large and small sizes without any sacrifice to structure and readability. Font files will contain different sets of the letterforms than a print typeface. You’ll typically find a bold version, an enlarged bold, etc. Italics are found less often, due to their typically poor visibility on a screen. There’s a great article about this subject here: http://www.sitepoint.com/anatomy-web-fonts/

Print typefaces are typified by greater complexity and customizability, so that a designer in full control of the printed object can manipulate a typeface to an amazing extent. Designers can treat type like a graphic object, even though that’s usually something that’s tough to pull off.

A big part of this entire debate – and yes, it’s still an open debate – is what’s known as kerning. Kerning refers to adjusting the spaces between letters and words. A typesetter can adjust the kerning in a word or sentence so that parts of the letter overlap into the space of the letter immediately preceding or following it. For a great illustration of this concept, have a look at this Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerning.

Because we don’t typically adjust kerning for screen text, each letter in a screen font has a pre-set amount of space that surrounds each letter. This is what’s known as “monospaced” type. In other words, a screen font is meant to be standardized so that no matter what letter falls after which, the font will remain readable and properly spaced. Some screen fonts have evolved to be able to be kerned, but it’s highly automated, and like anything that’s fully automated, there will be some areas that just don’t work precisely the way that we’d always like it to. Sort of like factory cheesecake. Still good, but perhaps not worth blowing your diet over.

It’s not true that all serif typefaces are really for print, and non-serif fonts are for the screen, because in the years since modern monitors first came out, fonts and typefaces have evolved both artistically and in terms of usability. We now see both types of type in both print and on-screen. But there can be dramatic results by manipulating little things like the extension on the cross of a “t”, for example, which helps letters fit in a way that makes good use of the space on the screen, and still looks natural. Some typefaces, like Times Roman, were designed for specific things, like newspaper columns, and there are sooo many much better choices for serif typefaces in books, documents and papers, that I’m amazed that people still use that font at all. Times Roman is like the Scottish Play – you just can’t say the name of it at certain parties.

It’s considered a major no-no to use a screen font in print. The end result is a font that is not kerned properly, meaning that there are uneven gaps between the letters, which if they are used for the title, is going to glare at you from smack in the center of the cover of the book. There’s also something called aliasing, which very simply means that the angled edges of a screen font can be artificially smoothed to appear softer on the eye. Again, this is one of those areas that can get thoroughly messed up if you don’t understand the finer settings of stuff like Photoshop. Simply taking a high-resolution typeface and shrinking it down will not adjust the resolution properly, making it look “jagged” and blurry. See here for another article with an excellent technical explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_anti-aliasing

Screen fonts also have different effects when justified, due to automatic kerning. If you align a paragraph to be justified using a screen font, the letters across the line will be aligned with even gaps from the outermost point of each letter, which means that if an “A” and a “V” happen to follow each other, there will be too much space between them. A print typeface will typically automatically compensate for this, making the line appear more naturally-spaced, and therefore lend itself to a more natural reading experience. You cannot always correct this with hand-kerning. And even if you can, it’s time-consuming.

No matter what, if I were you, I would not geek out too much about this issue. There is an argument to be made that using screen fonts for the design of eBook covers is totally appropriate, considering that they are not meant to be printed out – the covers, too, are seen only on-screen. But I must say that I’ve seen a lot of oddly-spaced type out there: it floats, strangely, like a ship that isn’t anchored properly.

I think it’s a style choice. Is it readable? Does it look professional? Does it clearly make readers understand what they’re going to get in this book? If you answer yes to all of those, then great. Trust your eyes and your instinct.

join the discussion

Make Your eBook Into a Magazine

April 10th, 2012 . by Peggy

With my upcoming audio product eBook Fast Lane, I’m including a slim workbook for eBook creators. Here’s how you too can create an eBook that is also a magazine.

HP has a service called MagCloud, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a cloud printing service for magazines. Yes, you can upload your mailing list, and they will print the number of required copies, and send them out to your list. You can also order them for yourself at a very reasonable price. They have three different sizes, and the print quality is excellent. Check out the latest I just created for this platform, for friend and client Shari Molchan, of MolchanFinancial.com.

Shari wanted an eBook, but she also know she wanted something to have at her speaking events and classes. With MagCloud, we created a single file to upload – that’s right, not different versions of the file for eBook, downloadable and print – uploaded it once, and we were in business.

The PDF we created to upload to MagCloud also works as a download on Shari’s website (in lower resolution, to make it smaller and faster to download), and when the digital version is downloaded from MagCloud, it works as a cool iPad app, which shows off Shari’s content to best advantage. The print version is beautiful, using the best in magazine printing technology, bagged and delivered to your door.

SLICK, huh?

join the discussion

10 Things Authors Should Know About QR Codes

December 23rd, 2011 . by Peggy

I’ve spent the last year working with a firm here in the US, doing research and application development related to the use of QR codes for marketing. As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for how everything I encounter relates to information marketing, and I’ve summarized here some points that Authors in particular should find stimulating.

1. You can’t ignore it for much longer.

As tablets and smartphones capable of scanning QR codes expand to fill more than 53% of the mobile market, you have yet another avenue through which to connect to readers. If you have a book going to print in the next few weeks or months, be sure to put a QR code on the cover. If you haven’t yet decided to what you want that code to link, have no fear: just link it to a page on your current domain, such as mybook.com/qr. Then, when your’e ready, place the content at that URL.

2. Elevate your QR content.

In my don’t-call-it-humble opinion, the biggest mistake that seems to be made with QR codes overall is that they are only used to link to existing content that can be found any old way, regardless of whether someone has the code or not. Reward QR users with something extra-special, such as a video message from you that is not directly linked to from any other part of your blog, or a secondary version of your book trailer. Think of it as more than just an easy way to funnel people into what you already have.

3. Realize that most people will look at your stuff on a phone, not necessarily a tablet.

If you link to a video, be sure that it formats for a cell phone appropriately. (YouTube.com can link to an unlisted video and adjust automatically, no matter what viewers use to see it.) If you link to a page on a website, be sure it’s not a gigantic graphic, text formatted as images, etc., that will all look awful on a phone.  Make all text re-flowable, and all images self-adjusting.

4. Don’t have just one code.

Let’s assume that you’ve integrated QR codes as part of your wholistic marketing strategy. That should mean that you have a code on your business card that links to your “About me” page on your blog, and one on your book cover that links directly to information about the book itself, more in the series, extra information about the same vein of content, or perhaps an invitation to receive special extra content, one on your posters advertising book signings might link to an intro to the book, you as an author, and confirmed details about the event itself, with an easy link to put that event into their calendar. Each code can be context-sensitive and detailed.

5. Don’t expect people to buy your book from a QR code.

But do expect them to want to learn more about you, the book, your other titles, etc. If this is the first time they’re hearing about you, be sure you woo them appropriately first. As per #4, one of the codes in your arsenal should lead directly to a buy-it-now page, but be sure to offer more than that up front.

6. Don’t isolate the code.

Be sure that the code is presented in a way that lets the user know what to expect when they scan it – are they going to a contact page about you? Then be sure to tell them that. Are they going to buy tickets to your event? Are they going to see some exclusive content? A video? Be sure to give them a headsup, so that they are not only more interested in scanning, but also not worried about being spammed, getting a virus from a disreputable vendor, etc.

7. Expect more from your scanners.

It might not be a far-off assumption that people who own a smartphone and know enough to use a QR code are in that sweet spot group of consumers: 25-45 year olds with disposable income and a higher education. They might want complex content, that is well thought-out and implemented. Chances are, they will reward those extra efforts you make to entertain and challenge them with more money spent on your stuff. Give more to get more.

8. Don’t link directly to a file download.

Since users might access this from a phone, they are going to hate it if they scan a code only to see a PDF trying to suck up their entire data plan inside 2 minutes. Link to a page first, and give them an option.

9. Include social info on QR landing pages.

Once people scan the code, make it extremely easy for them to share what they’ve discovered, by including “Tweet this” and “Share on Facebook” links on that page.

10. Think in terms of space, not just time.

Mobile users might find it helpful to have a QR code perform an automatic checkin for a location on Yelp or Foursquare. Reward event attendees with a code that will help them earn Foursquare “Swarm” badges and other location or event-specific happenings.

BONUS – 11. Be sure to follow up.

Once someone has scanned your code, it’s easy enough to use any number of systems (afflink) to invite them to sign up for your list or enter their mobile number to keep up to date on future happenings. Not all will take advantage of this, but the 5% that do will be loyal enough to be worth communicating with in future.

 

join the discussion

Free Books: A Viable Business Model?

December 14th, 2009 . by Peggy

The debate surrounding free content has become so heated it melts the keyboards of most Bloggers, Musicians, Visual Artists and other Creators. But does it work for Authors?

Anyone who’s published a book knows that you’re expected to give away a few things for free, including sample chapters, and of course review and publicity copies of your book. Most Authors have done free lectures in exchange for a table at the back of the room from which to sell their stuff.

But what if you gave away the entire book? All the time? To everybody?

Bloggers have been particularly frustrated by the issue of what to give away, and what to sell, at any of the conventions and gatherings I’ve been to in 2009. Most of them have written the equivalent of several books and not gained a penny from their efforts. Bloggers are getting a bit angry about this, because we’ve all seen so many promises of things like huge waves of blogging ad revenue that simply haven’t come true. In addition, people have become quite jaded by a proliferation of quality free content, and don’t seem willing to pay for information that helps them, entertains them, or even makes them money in turn.

But there are people making decent money – in fact, some making fantastic money – giving away content. How are they doing it?

According to Blogger and Podcaster Magazine, there are a few basic ways that people profit from free online content, including (for the most part) advertising, merchandise, and using the content to sell something more valuable: their consulting expertise. Like you, I was worried that this meant that if Authors wanted to learn from other industries and try giving away their books while making money in some other fashion, we might need to place completely unrelated and distracting ads alongside our books, which are now published as websites. This might work for some, but definitely not for all Authors and their creative works.

Seth Godin argues that  “…The book is a souvenir.” In the previous link, he discusses several cases where Authors – including himself, of course – who have released their books for free on the internet, are still selling paper or downloadable copies. Why? Because what people pay for is the instrument of delivery. Special leather-bound editions might only sell 250 copies, but they could sell for upwards of $250 per copy. CD’s containing eBooks, along with perhaps some bonus material, are still capable of significant digital cachet. Here’s an Author’s opportunity to partner with a graphic artist and create something elegant, beautiful, and distinctive – something irresistable.

Even 37Signals, the company who created the online project management system called Basecamp (that last one is an affiliate link), offered their ebook Getting Real for free if you read it off their website. They sell a downloadable version for $19, and a paper copy for $25. Despite offering it for free, they’ve sold over 30,000 copies of the downloadable version alone.

Examine this additional model from filmmaker Nina Paley, who created the film Sita Sings the Blues, based on the Ramayana of Valmiki. (Well, why the hell not?) Her very public accounting (see the link under her name) of the ways and how much money she’s made by not selling her film tells us something very important: this model does work, but you have to take a wholistic approach. Just one of those revenue streams is not enough – you need to present a well-rounded series of offerings.

As Paley says on her website, “There is the question of how I’ll get money from all this. My personal experience confirms audiences are generous and want to support artists. Surely there’s a way for this to happen without centrally controlling every transaction. The old business model of coercion and extortion is failing. New models are emerging, and I’m happy to be part of that. But we’re still making this up as we go along. You are free to make money with the free content of Sita Sings the Blues, and you are free to share money with me. People have been making money in Free Software for years; it’s time for Free Culture to follow. I look forward to your innovations.” (Links in previous paragraph are from Paley’s original website. I encourage you to give her money.)

Even with all the heat, I think I’m up for the challenge. Even if it melts this keyboard.

join the discussion