Tag Archives: Tips

On Research: Dive Deep or Swim Around?

ResearchDeepDivesOrShallowSwimming

I’m not going to lie. I’m not sure how on point this picture is, but I had to post it for the little red-haired girl.

Just a brief thought today:

When writing a book on diverse subjects, should you read all your sources on one topic then move onto the next, or should you cherry-pick and keep bouncing from one topic to another?

I’ve done a little of both for the expanded edition of Fractals You Can Draw, though my inclination is to go for the cherry-picking or “swimming around” approach. I’ve got a few reasons for this:

  1. Keeps each subject fresher – Spending a week or several reading about one subject can be taxing. I inevitably find myself skimming over passages that I then have to re-read. Reading one topic at a time can give you a solid understanding of the subject matter and helps you better understand concepts as they are presented by different authors. But it can also make you feel like you’re reading the same thing over and over.
  2. Helps you to discover interconnected ideas – With a book that is going to be a survey of different topics, it is important to have a through-line that ties everything together. Reading about a new topic each time can help you to see what’s different about each, and what commonalities they share. And you get some of the same benefit as you would when reading different authors on the same subject; you solidify ideas by seeing them presented from different angles.
  3. Each section is better balanced for research and time – I have a source list that’s currently about 150 papers and 20 or so books. I will not have time to read them all, and I’d like each chapter to be well-balanced in terms of the number of authors and sources. I don’t want to rely too heavily on any one author’s perspective. Since I don’t have infinite time I need to make sure I’m actually covering all the areas I want to write about.
  4. Helps you eliminate topics that don’t fit the theme – If you have better sense of what the whole book is shaping up to be, then you can eliminate sources that don’t fit your book. And reading from diverse sources can change your idea of what the book will be. Something that was going to be a chapter in my first outline is now about 30-40% of the final book.
  5. Gives you new ideas for sources – When you see how ideas connect, you’ll discover new angles and areas to research you hadn’t thought of at the beginning. It’s best to find these topics as early as possible so you can get outlines approved by a publisher (if you have one) and so you can make a better writing and research plan.

So what do you do? Do you dive deep, or float around?

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10 formatting tips for the Kindle

Last week I started the actual writing part of my non-fiction project, diving straight into the perils and frustrations of the Kindle format. For plain text the formatting is pretty straightforward, but add pictures, equations and source code to the mix and you have a whole different ballgame. Writing an eBook for the Kindle is like designing a web-page in the mid 90s, with a lot of the same restrictions, but this guide will help you through some of the trickier bits.

1) Use Microsoft Word – It’s a little frustrating for me as an open source advocate to suggest that you have to use Microsoft software, but it just makes your life easier. All of Amazon’s guides are geared to this format, particularly the post 2007 versions of Office. For text you might be able to get away with LibreOffice, AbiWord or OpenOffice, but with equations code and styles, it’s best to go with Amazon’s recommendations.

2) Pick up the free guides – Amazon has two free guides on how to format and publish for the Kindle. While these don’t cover everything, they are a quick read and will give you a good feel for the whole process from draft to finished product. Of particular use are the sections on paragraph formatting and preparing front matter like the Table of Contents.

3) Own a Kindle – Seems straightforward but this is crucial. If you are like me, you’ll want to test your book as you go along rather than waiting till the end of the process. While Amazon does provide emulators, there is nothing like having the actual piece of hardware you’ll be publishing on. I recommend the Kindle Touch for this, even for projects that involve color pictures. Color’s gonna look good on the Fire and the iPad, but you won’t know how it’ll look on eInk till you try it.

4) Use a maximum of two levels of Table of Contents – While the guide suggests only one, you can have links to sub-sections within your chapter by using Header 2, if you’ve been using Header 1 for the main chapter titles. You can do three levels using Header 3, but the Kindle Table of Contents will show both Header 2 and 3 at the same level.

5) Don’t use bullets, but if you must… – Use a white bullet with a black outline. Bullets come with an automatic tab in Microsoft Word and tabs are a no-no in eBook formatting. The white bullet has the least noticeable indent and looks fairly close to how it looks in Word.

6) The equation editor is your friend – For anything mathematical, the equation editor looks more professional and ensures that it will look the way you want it to across sizes of screen and text. When the equation is saved out it is saved as an image so it is not subject to the whims of resizing.

7) Don’t use Courier for Code, use HTML Code Style – Word has a number of pre-defined styles. If you’re publishing source code like HTML or C++, HTML Code Style seems to be what the professionals use. It’s a tight font that allows for a lot of content per line, with a fixed width look, without the ridiculous spacing of Courier. Also use two spaces for indenting instead of tabs.

8) Back to the days of JPEG – The Kindle supports individual images in JPEG format (and a few others but not PNG), up to 127 KB. To give you some perspective my 5MP Camera from about 9 years ago takes 1-2MB pictures (or 8 to 16 times the maximum size). My new 14MP camera takes 14MB pictures (more than 100 times the max file size). You’ll need to take advantage of Word’s image compression tools, as well as compressing ahead of time. My advice, resize to a 600 pixel width (max width resolution for most Kindles) using IrfanView, then open in Paint or something else to compress further. When you save out the book as HTML you’ll be able to see final image sizes in the associated folder.

9) Use Calibre to convert to Amazon formatCalibre is an excellent eBook management and conversion manager, able to be used portably and across most OS’s. Only downside is they update frequently and updating requires downloading the full installer instead of simply patches, but library is maintained across versions.

10) Format as you write – There may an inclination to just bang out the text of your book, and insert pictures and other things later, but this opens the possibility of forgetting images, equations, and having to do a lot of insertions which Word is not always the best at. Also use page breaks near images if you want to be sure certain text appears with them.

Last thing is simply give yourself more time than you think you needed. Formatting a heavily imaged book can be time consuming, but the final result is ridiculously satisfying. Have fun 🙂

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