If you are planning to publish an ebook, you will want it to look good, to look professional, to look like an ebook the biggest publisher would publish.
These days there are many tools to help you make an ebook, but getting a good-looking ebook isn't always so easy. This article will tell you about "markup" -- a magical substance that can either make your ebook beautiful-looking. Or ugly as sin.
Ebooks are (roughly) self-contained websites. They are made of the same stuff: HTML and CSS styling.
What is Markup?
Markup is the HTML part ... it's the text of your book, plus "tags" in the background.
For instance, here is a brief passage of text with some formatting:
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a fine young man unaware of various things about his past, including: the Force, what his father was up to, how to use a lightsaber. All that, however, was about to change. Three things were about to happen: he would discover the Force, he would learn how to use a lightsaber, and he would meet his father.
This is what you might write into Word or whatever tool you are using to write your book. But when it gets turned into an ebook, you can see the way that italic and bold is achieved is through "markup", or HTML. So the markup of that text looks like:
<div style="margin: 1em; padding: 0.5em; background-color: #bdbdbd;"><code>A long, <em>long</em> time ago, in a galaxy far, <strong>far</strong> away, there lived a fine young man unaware of various things about his past, including: the Force, what his father was up to, how to use a lightsaber. All that, however, was about to change. Three things were about to happen: he would discover the Force, he would learn how to use a lightsaber, and he would meet his father.</code></div>
The <em> tag specifies that a text should be italicized. The <strong> tag specifies that it should be bold.
When you sit down to read an ebook on your tablet, ereader, or phone, or when you read a print book, or even a web page ... you won't see those tags. The tags aren't for humans - they are there to tell the ebook software, or browser, how those words should look. Bold? Italic? Green?
Why is good markup important?
The thing about ebooks is that you never quite know what kind of setup your book is going to be read on. Different ebook reading software might display things differently, and the people reading often have control over things like spacing, margins, font-size. What this means is: you cannot control exactly how your book is going to look. But! If you have good markup, chances are that the output will look like it's supposed to. This is especially important if your book will be on many different ebook stores/devices.
There are a handful of tags common to most books:
strong - used to make text bold - <strong>
emphasis - used to make text italic - <em>
blockquote - used to quote or excerpt a longer text; can be used, for instance, for a letter, a poem, etc. - <blockquote>
unordered list - used to create a list with bullets - <ul>
list item - each individual bullet point - <li>
ordered list - used to create a numbered list - <ol> (list items use the same tag but are numbered in an ordered list)
headings - used to make headings in your document - <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, ... <h6>
Here is that same text from above with more tags used, resulting more formatting:
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a fine young man unaware of various things about his past, including:
- the Force
- what his father was up to
- how to use a lightsaber.
All that, however, was about to change. Three things were about to happen:
- he would discover the Force
- he would learn how to use a lightsaber, and
- he would meet his father.
Long after this fellow lived, a famous movie was made about his life. The movie was shot in Tunisia.
Much of this markup can be done automatically in a Visual Editing tool, such as the Pressbooks platform, which I created to simplify this process for writers without a technical background. However, even with an interface like Pressbooks, a lot of bad markup can be imported from files originating in other Word processing applications such as Microsoft Word.
And: If your markup is "bad" chances are, your book isn't going to look good. So, if you are making your own ebooks, it's a good idea to review the markup before you publish.
Hugh McGuire is the founder of Pressbooks, a simple tool makes it easy for authors and publishers to make high-quality ebooks and print-on-demand books (without having to know anything about HTML markup!). He is the co-author of Book: a Futurist's Manifesto, and the founder of LibriVox.org, the world's largest publisher of free, public domain audiobooks.