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Perfect Front Matter for Kindle & EPUB

This essay is meant to be several things: a brief tutorial on how to properly format and organize front matter for books; a detailed tutorial on how to process an InDesign front-matter layout into clean, well-formatted EPUB (and through it, Kindle) pages; and finally, an example of how all the pieces are used, from InDesign formatting tricks through CSS and export options, to get a "dual format" InDesign source file that can be exported directly to both PDF for print and EPUB for e-book.

While a polished dual-format layout is not necessary for books intended only for EPUB/Kindle export, maintaining a clean print-like layout helps in final editing and formatting, and leaves open the possibility for a print version of a book should demand or market appear after electronic publication. I recommend that book designers work to such a clean layout in ID, and use minor style and export tweaks along with CSS styling to create a 'perfect' e-book from that file.

This is a long page with many tutorial details. It's concluded with a hardcore pro summary, including sample work files; those who are comfortable with EPUB document formatting in InDesign and export to EPUB and Kindle may want to skip right to that material and examine the component files directly. Those with less absolute assurance and experience are advised to read through this presentation, though, to pick up details, nuances and the overall way all of these processes connect. There's lots to learn!

v1.00 – Published Online January 2024

Perfect Front Matter for Kindle & EPUB
James Gifford


Front Matter... Matters

With almost no exceptions, books require 'front matter' — title, copyright, TOC and other pages before the exciting adventure (or dull reference material) begins. As with so many other aspects of small and direct publishing, this part of many new books has gotten lax, even sloppy, and should not be. Clean, properly-formatted front matter is a mark of professionalism and serves those who use books in ways more complex than simply finding the first page of Chapter 1.

Doing proper front matter in print is not complicated, as long as the general rules are followed and styles are used to format and organize the content along traditional lines. Getting this material into an e-book, though, seems to baffle many author/designers, and it's in small-press Kindle and EPUB that front material is often a disorganized mess... when not omitted altogether.

Front matter in EPUB and Kindle does takes some deft formatting and even a few tricks, but it's not hard once you know the process. What's more, it's easy to set it up for 'dual format' publication, so that your beautifully rendered print front matter exports seamlessly to the electronic page. Among other things already noted, this is a full walkthough of basic dual-format techniques.

This essay completely skips over TOCs, a topic I will get to in a future (probably next) entry. For one thing, an in-text TOC is an anachronism in e-books and should be omitted unless there are specific and valid reasons to include it alongside the inherent, more convenient dynamic TOC.

Some Technical Basics

As with most of the topics on this site (and in the book), it's assumed you bring at least basic technical knowledge to this tutorial. There just isn't time or room to start from scratch with elements of InDesign style formatting, EPUB export and CSS code. The goal is to take that basic knowledge and give you some sharp, professional tools based on them to get to a much higher 'next level' in some aspect of digital publishing — here, the huge leap from default e-book export to a truly professional result, even with complex book layouts. Here's a quick run-down of what you should know to make the most of this tutorial:

  • You should be at a reasonable level of mastery with InDesign, including doc setup, page layout and setup of all styles (Paragraph, Character and Object). If you don't know, for example, how to set up Paragraph Rules and Keep options, you might struggle with some of this material.
  • You should have a completely up-to-date version of Kindle Previewer installed on your system (even if you are only planning to export to EPUB — it's a good basic proofing tool).
  • You should have a good, "vanilla" — standards compliant and no more — EPUB reader installed on your system. The currently recommended one is Calibre, which brings a host of other e-book management and modification tools that are not really an asset, but the Calibre reader is the closest to a plain-vanilla, standards-based reader available. (Technically, Thorium Reader is 100% standards-compliant, but it has a persistent font-sizing but that makes book development and proofing difficult.) If you are using any other EPUB reader, your results may vary considerably and an optimized document may display quite differently — badly — on the more standardized readers.
    • Specifically, do not use the Adobe Digital Editions reader (it's terrible); any browser-based EPUB reader (they vary too much); or the Apple e-book reader (it has non-standard rendering in some critical ways).
  • You should be comfortable with InDesign's EPUB export menu. I will go into some detail about settings, but not much explanation here. Many of the fields and options are quite cryptic and "don't mean what you think they mean."
  • And finally, you should have at least passing familiarity with CSS style statements, as used in nearly all web sites. You don't have to have an exhaustive, web-designer understanding, but the basic statements and the fundamentals of formatting them, line by line, is essential.

EPUB vs Kindle

I won't go into great detail on this, other than to say that reflowable EPUB export from InDesign is the only professional path to Kindle. While an EPUB export should be as optimal as a Kindle book derived from it, the truth is that variations between the formats, and between the two kinds of readers, and (especially) among the legions of varying EPUB readers means that it is rare that an EPUB export that makes a polished Kindle result will be a polished publication itself.

That is, export to EPUB and export to Kindle often need two separate exports, each optimized by the CSS styles applied at the time of export. It's easy enough to do, and the differences are often minor, but important to understand that it needs doing — you really can't get both for the price of one effort.

The focus here is Kindle books, with asides where needed for good EPUB results. Both depend greatly on actual testing and correction of styles, so there isn't a lot being left out; you'll just have to do each fine-tuning process separately.

Note: Kindle has an on-again, off-again rendering flaw that completely overrides any attempt to adjust line spacing in styles on the first page. The result is that multi-line titles, for example, have a bit too much spacing and this cannot be corrected. (The same element, under EPUB, can be adjusted as easily as all other elements.) I have yet to find a reason for this glitch, why it comes and goes with minor Kindle system revisions or a persistent fix.

Also note that I strongly, if not absolutely deprecate all practices of modifying EPUB files after they are generated. No aspect of that once necessary but now obsolete practice or mindset is needed to successfully create professional e-books. Just as we stopped modifying printed pages and exported PDFs through perfecting the material at the source, we need to stop assuming export is only a first step of many that involve modifying EPUB documents. Get it right before you hit export... and fix what needs to be fixed at the source level. It's the professional approach.

EPUB Export: The Short Form

EPUB export from InDesign is sufficiently complex that it does not make sense to recap the whole process in this tutorial. A few specific notes are included here, where they're relevant to the process or any variation from a completely vanilla project, but if you're not fully familiar with the InDesign export feature, you'll want to read these additional introductions:

If you think you've got a handle on exports (and don't have time or inclination to re/read any of these), here's a summary of the details and a wish for the best of luck:

  • On export, select EPUB (reflowable). Don't use fixed-page (FXL) export.
  • Under General:
    • Select EPUB 3.0
    • Select Cover: None
    • Check Split Document; select Based on Export Tags
  • Under Text, uncheck Remove Forced LIne Breaks
  • Under Object, check Preserve Appearance
  • Under HTML & CSS:
    • Choose Include Classes
    • Check Generate CSS
    • Check Preserve Local Overrides
    • Uncheck Include Embeddable Fonts
    • Be sure to add the FrontMatter.css file to the list
    Leave all other settings at defaults. (And best of luck.)

Layers 'n Layers

There are multiple layers to the process discussed here, enough to fill a slim book of its own. Although I could present just one narrow 'template' approach to e-book front matter, this is a good place to bring in some of those other layers and show the power of both CSS formatting and the potential of dual-format layout. Careful readers will learn several things from this tutorial, not just the finite elements of e-book front matter.

Those layers include:

  • The fundamentals of front matter formatting (for print)
  • Efficient layout of complex pages in InDesign (no hacks or shortcuts)
  • CSS style management for EPUB export
  • Combining InDesign & CSS styles for dual-format documents

There are no good ways to teach any part of this without an understanding of the others, so it's "all in" to learn this all correctly.

Fundamental Front Matter Design & Layout

I have followed a very traditional, simple, vanilla format for the pages in the working example here. Front matter can vary considerably even while remaining very standardized and formal, but what's shown below is a basic approach you will find in almost any well-designed print book. Front matter consists of:

  • A half-title page
  • A frontispiece or dedication page (sometimes left blank)
  • A full title page
  • A copyright page

...which is usually followed by the table of contents, or the opening page of a Foreword, Introduction or first chapter. Other common layouts might include two more pages, so that both a frontispiece (illustration) and dedication can have their own pages, and material such as an author's prior works on the verso (left side) of one of those, but this simple arrangement is the starting point for nearly all well-planned books. So we'll run with this, and I will make note of places where a book designer has options for alternate arrangements.

Efficient Page Layout in InDesign

There are probably as many ways to achieve any layout goal in InDesign as there are ID users. Realistically, though, there is often one 'best practice' and at most two or three alternate ways of achieving a goal that don't create more problems than they solve.

This is especially true of InDesign's original purpose, layout for print. With few exceptions, a designer can hack and slash and glue stuff anywhere on any page, and have the document print or export to PDF looking exactly like the layout. As many designers learn, though, that's not a great practice for documents that have a lifespan of more than one printing. Going back to modify or edit a poorly constructed document can be a nightmare experience as simple changes blow up whole page layouts, or some combination of badly applied styles proves impossible to modify or duplicate.

Much more importantly, though, such sloppy techniques cannot be used for any document that will be exported to EPUB or Kindle. A patchwork structure and technical shortcuts will produce a complete mess of a file, if they export at all... as many first-time e-book creators have found. A methodical, organized approach to layout and content flow must be used to get a successful e-book export. And, since e-books are more and more commonly demanded (sometimes long after a print edition is completed), and the hack-n-slash methods bring a whole raft of downstream problems... why not learn to build every long-form project using these careful, structured methods? Your professionalism, workflow and patience will all benefit.

I will emphasize these correct methods in the steps below; I urge designers to incorporate them in all page design work, not just documents intended for e-book export.

CSS Style Management

If there's a single key to stylish, flexible, attractive and stable e-book export, for both EPUB and Kindle, it's using web-based CSS style management to adjust both text and object styles to suit the electronic page. While most of what CSS does at the time of export can be achieved by InDesign document settings, there is a large disconnect between how, say, spacing works on a document page and how it is exported and managed in reflowable EPUB. If you adjust things for a clean e-page, your ID document often ends up looking like it was formatted by a monkey, because awkward spacing, structure and overrides are needed for each element to translate cleanly to an e-book equivalent.

(Technical translation: we do not have integral control of how InDesign translates export settings, so we have to game things like font sizes and spacing to get the output we desire.)

It is far better, and in many ways simpler to lay out the document with clean, attractive formatting for visual work and print, and then use CSS to modify each style for EPUB export.

If you have code-based web design experience, the HTML/CSS basis for EPUB will come naturally to you. If you don't, the place to learn is the online resource W3Schools. And for EPUB/Kindle work, you will want my book Word & InDesign to Kindle, which assumes basic HTML/CSS knowledge and then presents almost every nut, bolt, washer and drop of Loctite in detail.

Here's how powerful CSS can be, though. The page above/at right, from InDesign, using what looks like little more than a manuscript format, could be exported with CSS styles to exactly replicate the more conventional ID/EPUB pages in the example below. In short, the InDesign styling can be completely absent as long as all the text is styled and tagged correctly. (It's not a very efficient way to work, though; using a combination of visual ID styles and CSS, even for e-book only projects, is much more intuitive. But it emphasizes that the ID layout need not be optimal for printing — or even resemble a final layout — to do a perfect EPUB export.)

You can, though, work through a simple tutorial that does indeed turn that "clown car" layout into the same finished one as this tutorial; see CSS Magic for EPUB Export. Yes, it's worth doing that one first.

Combining InDesign & CSS Styles for EPUB Export

And finally, you have to put together that clean, organized InDesign layout and the CSS that converts it to clean, organized, flexible EPUB (and Kindle) output. It's important to understand how the two work together, especially if your goal is a dual-format document.

Again — if you are going to put time into a complex book or other long-form project, taking the extra time to make it dual-format compatible is effort well spent. It will make either print or e-book result better, and enable both with the flip of an export mode — and without the bear trap of having to maintain two separate source files that can get out of sync.

So let's do it that way here. But first, some final notes that fall into this catchall area:

Suspenders and Belt and Safety Pins

Many of the style settings across those for InDesign and combined or collateral ones in CSS achieve the same end in different ways, or even duplicate the function of another setting or statement. In a perfect world, only one statement might be needed to achieve, say, a page break at a desired point. By using all of those listed — some in InDesign, some in the export, some aimed at a Kindle result and some aimed at EPUB — the behavior is guaranteed across the spectrum of document formats and stages. Few of these duplicate settings conflict with each other, as well. Therefore, some of the specific steps to get a result in InDesign or EPUB might be superfluous to a designer aiming for a Kindle edition, but should be included anyway.

A Point about Points

There is a fundamental difference in measurement between InDesign and e-books when it comes to points. In InDesign, 72 points always equal one inch, pretty much no matter how or where they are used. In e-books, points equal effective pixels, and regardless of device screen resolution, an effective pixel is 144 to the inch. So 72 points of scaling in InDesign — an inch — will export as 72 points (pt) or pixels (px) in EPUB... for half as much screen distance. This is the main reasons spacing set in InDesign comes out oddly on an EPUB or Kindle reader. Keep this differential in mind as we adjust both layout and export spacing.

Perfect Front Matter: Page by Page

This tutorial uses a six-page sample front material section, using very standard layout and design for the common elements. Let's go through it page by page. In each, we'll discuss the overall layout principles, the relevant InDesign styles and setup for print (direct, or export to PDF), and the CSS code that creates a clean Kindle (and EPUB) export with equivalent, if not identical formatting..


The Half-Title Page

The half-title page is usually the first inside recto (right-hand) page in a well-designed book. It traditionally carries only the book title and, if used, a subtitle, both in any 'art' form used on the title page — font, shading, color, arrangement, graphic embellishments. It should be exactly the same as the title page except for having only these one or two items.

(History lesson: half-title pages stem from the days when books might be sold as an unbound set of pages, for the seller or buyer to bind in a style and material of their choosing. If you've ever wondered why great libraries have hundreds of books bound in an identical style, it's because they bought their works unbound and then had them finished in matching leather, calfskin, boards etc. The half-title page was more or less the stock label for that bound stack, identifying it without exposing the title page to wear, fingerprints, dirt etc. before sale. It was often discarded at the time of binding, but then the practice became to bind it as the first interior page. Some bound stacks even had two half-titles, one to be the 'protective wrapper' and discarded, with a pristine one to be bound in.)

To be honest, e-books don't need a half-title page, and it can be omitted without a second thought. But if you want to include a dedication or frontispiece page, a half-title wil set off that content so that the book doesn't begin in a jarring fashion. That is, the choice is begin with a half-title page and a secondary page, then the title page... or just start with the title page.

Overview

This would be the first page in both the InDesign layout and the e-book, so it has at least one special quality: both EPUB readers and Kindle can treat this "top of all the pages" differently from all virtual pages to follow.

Like long web pages, reflowable e-books have only one page, usually of immense length, broken into virtual pages by the reader. The length of the pages is controlled entirely by the combination of screen size, font size, line spacing and margins and can thus obviously vary enormously across a large body of readers and users. This is why it is a fundamental mistake to try and maintain rigid page structure in an e-book, so don't try. Even these 'fixed' pages are actually fluid layouts.

The primary effect of this first page top is that space above a paragraph or object may be honored, depending on the reader, whereas the same paragraph in the same style may be collapsed to page top, the space above lost, on every following virtual page.

However, both kinds of reader (Kindle and EPUB) have varied over the years on this practice, and EPUB readers vary even more among themselves. So while I've noted the <First Doc Page> point, it is best to never assume that any page will behave differently from the others. (Feel free to note this for experimenting, though.)

The first paragraph on the page is tagged [TITLE]. A simple enough InDesign style:

  • 36 point Calibri Bold
  • 32 point leading
  • Right-aligned
  • 0 spacing on all four sides
  • Keep: Start on Next Page

Okay, so if there's zero spacing at the top, why is it two inches down the page? Not because InDesign likes it that way, that's for sure. ID is extremely stubborn about collapsing "space above" at the top of pages, and there is no way to use spacing to get, say, 144 points (2 inches) of space above to push the text down.

Really, this borders on being a bug in InDesign's layout logic. There should be a checkbox for styles that enforces "Always Use Space Above" or some such. There's not. End editorial.

The method most print designers use to push text down on a page is to grab that page's text frame and drag its border down. Don't. This is sloppy work and it binds the spacing to that document page, so that if the text flows differently, you'll have the space in the wrong place. Such hacking at the underlying structure is also lost on export to EPUB (nothing from Parent pages or document layout is exported) so it won't achieve what you want there, either.

The only proper way to space text down from an InDesign page top margin is to put an invisible Paragraph Rule (line) at the top. (Really.) To do this, as for the [TITLE] style here, go to the Paragraph Style menu for that style, select Paragraph Rules, tick the box to turn on Rule Above, set Weight (thickness) to the desired offset (at 72 points per inch; this style uses 144 points for a two-inch displacement) Set the line color to [None] so that it remains invisible. Then — critical! — tick the Keep In Frame box to force the line to respect page margins. Or:

  • Paragraph Rules: check Rule Above
  • [Line] Weight: 144pt (=2 inches)
  • Line color: None
  • Check: Keep In Frame

Voilá; top spacing that will always work as expected in InDesign. (Note that whereas regular spacing disappears at page tops, this workaround disappears in running text, so it is best used with paragraph styles that are forced to break to a page top.)

None of this will do anything for the style in EPUB export; that line-above will not export. To get spacing above into the export, there would seem to be two methods: add that spacing to the InDesign style even though ID ignores it, or add the spacing in a CSS override style. In this case, it wouldn't hurt anything to define the spacing in InDesign, but the value differential (see above) makes that complicated.

So: the best way to get this top-spacing in EPUB and Kindle is to add it to the CSS style, as a margin-top definition, using the e-book ratio of 144 points/pixels per inch, for the spacing value. Here is the complete CSS style definition that produces the desired effect in the Kindle export:

p.TITLE {
color:black;
font-family:sans-serif;
font-size:3rem;
font-style:normal;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:bold;
line-height:0.8;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:216px;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:always;
text-align:right;
text-indent:0;
}

Let's break this down so that we can streamline further discussion a bit. The important elements here, some of which can be set by ID export but all of which should be checked and set correctly in the CSS style file, are:

  • font-family — I strongly recommend stripping all font export values to base types (serif, sans-serif and monospace). Don't export or embed specific fonts in any way for EPUB or Kindle.
  • font-size — Will probably have to be adjusted from the ID export. Use 'rem' instead of 'em' or any other font scaling value, as it is interpreted slightly differently — and better — than em.
  • line-height — the InDesign export values tend to be too wide for base e-reader layout. Start by setting all styles to a line height of 1; it's not uncommon to find that spacing of 0.9 to 0.5 produces a more pleasing spacing balance. (As noted, Kindle sometimes refuses to accommodate line-height values and insists on using a standard value.)
  • margins — InDesign exports all four values. You can combine them if you like. Keep in mind that export values will usually be effectively halved in EPUB display.
  • page-break-... — These are quite important in EPUB export. InDesign will usually set the CSS page break parameters according to the Keep options set for the style, but they should be reviewed carefully for any style where a page break is desired or should be avoided. Typically, headings will use auto for page-break-before and avoid for page-break-after. Headings always meant to start a page, such as this title and the chapter heading below, should have the ...-before setting always. These settings are not rigidly interpreted by either Kindle or EPUB, but are useful nonetheless and should be carefully set for each style as a backup or supporting setting.

The second style on the page is tagged [SUBTITLE]. Not all books will have subtitles, in which case this paragraph could (obviously) be omitted. However, this style performs another export function that will either have to be integrated into the half-page title, or otherwise implemented. The InDesign style is again simple:

  • 14 point Calibri Italic
  • 16 point leading
  • Right-aligned
  • 0 spacing on both sides and below
  • 12 point spacing above

Here's the equivalent CSS style:

p.SUBTITLE {
color:black;
font-family:sans-serif;
font-size:1.2rem;
font-style:italic;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:normal;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:12px;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:avoid;
text-align:right;
text-indent:0;
}

The essential elements here are:

  • font-family — stripped to sans-serif.
  • font-size — As above, will probably have to be adjusted from the ID export; use 'rem'.
  • margins — Space above is 12 points (1 pica), a pleasing distance from the Title. All other spaces are zero.
  • page-break-... — Here we want to avoid a break before, and auto (allow but not force) a break after. (It's always good to use multiple, but consistent settings when they are available, to make sure each platform gets the instruction it is looking for. What one platform may ignore or give flexible application to may be a hard instruction to another, and so on around.)

And that's one page. We can probably move a little faster now that some basics have been established.


The Frontispiece Page Variations

If e-books don't much need a half-title page, they probably need a Frontispiece or Dedication page even less. In a print book that properly uses a Half-Title page, there must be a verso (left) page to back it, which can be blank or used for either of these purposes. In an e-book, even one with a Half-Title page, that page can be omitted completely rather than left blank.

If you use a half-title and want to include the grace note of a companion page, here are two basic variations to consider.

Frontispiece Page

A frontispiece is usually a photo or illustration at the head of a book, showing the author, the subject (of a biography, for example) or a scene from a novel or historical account. The example uses a photo of Venus D. Milo, with a usual short identifying caption.

This page begins with a specific page-break paragraph, [PageTopBreak]. Although somewhat crude, this technique can solve a number of problems in InDesign page layout and reduce the number of styles needed — e.g. eliminate the need for both a section head and a section head with a page break before. This technique should used very selectively, applied only when all other, more 'integral' methods are exhausted or would be overly complex.

The [PageTopBreak] paragraph serves two purposes here: to implement a page break in the InDesign layout, and to provide a proper anchor for the photo of Ms. Milo. InDesign requires a graphic element anchor to be above (and preferably to the left of) the graphics or text frame being anchored, on the same page. So the paragraph both forces the page break (which can be achieved other ways) and provides the anchor point for the photo. The InDesign style includes:

  • 4 point Calibri
  • 0 point leading
  • 0 spacing on all sides
  • Keep: Start Paragraph Next Page
  • Center-aligned (recommended)
  • Magenta or other strong color not used in the publication (recommended)

In other words, [PageTopBreak] and similar 'structural' paragraph types should be tiny, have effectively no spacing or space use, and be styled (centered, ugly color) to be readily identifiable during composition. Its primary aspect, though, is that break to a Next Page (or, selectively, Next Frame or Next Column). This all means it will always be at the top of a new page and occupy no layout space. The CSS export should include:

p.PageTopBreak {
color:magenta;
font-family:serif;
font-size:0.1rem;
line-height:0;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:0;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:always;
text-align:center;
}

Since zero font sizes are not recognized in EPUB export, the micro 0.1rem size is used instead. Besides the zeroed-out size and spacing, the key setting is that page-break-before:always;.

Note: Always use an existing, base font for 'structural' and other invisible styles, so as not to clutter up the font list and downstream file sizes. It's all too common to see docs where a simple page-break style uses an additional display font and thus wastes doc processing time and storage space.

Note that while InDesign will tolerate an empty paragraph and implement the page break and anchor functions, EPUB and Kindle either lose empty paragraphs at export or ignore them in rendering the page layouts. So while a text string has been used in the page above and in the sample files, the correct usage would be a non-breaking space. This will be invisible in the ID layout and print, and keep the EPUB export from deleting the paragraph.

This would be a good place to use conditional text, so that a 'visibility' string in a standout color, like that used above, could be an asset to editing and layout, while a blank string is used at the time of print or export. This is applied in the sample file.

The next element, {FRONTISPIECE}, is a graphics frame tagged with an Object Style of that name. We will leave sizing and scaling of the image out of this discussion other than to say that the image should be sized and spaced for a pleasant esthetic result on the layout page.

Here are the elements that should be applied to the {FRONTISPIECE} object style applied to the graphics frame holding the image:

  • Anchored to end of preceding paragraph ([PageTopBreak])
  • Centered on page
  • Text Wrap 'Both Sides'
  • Bottom margin 12 pts
  • Top margin 72 pts — adjust to top of main text frame

The top margin here would be adjusted to suit the photo's positioning, just filling the space between it and the top margin. These settings are entirely for postioning on the InDesign layout page, and primarily serve to make all text wrap around the frame from the top of the page text frame to one pica (12pt) below it.

It's essential to create, apply and update that named Object Style, to give a hook in the CSS file for modifications. Without a named style applied, all object information will be assigned to a generic object name, which is difficult to identify and modify, and subject to a changing name. Very little of the ID settings will be exported to EPUB, but assigning the Object Style gives a direct hook for including CSS statements to format the graphics frame, such as this essential one:

div.FRONTISPIECE {
margin-top:144px;
}

Individual Image Export Settings

There are other important settings within InDesign for image elements, ones that are not preserved by an Object Style. While at least some of the information is transferred to an EPUB export, it is under an internal, generic object name that makes them difficult to manage in ID and access and modify after export. To be able to manage images individually, and to be able to embed these settings in the EPUB export, it is crucial to master this feature, the local export settings menu.

Unlike the single, limited, generic Object pane of the EPUB export menu, a much more comprehensive set of export characteristics can be applied to individual images or other graphic frames. If a book has many images, it's probably best to find a global setting that works for some majority of them, and then apply individual settings to each image that is outside that group. For books with only a few images, it's not overkill to set the export options for each one, individually, more or less rendering the limited global settings moot.

To set the individual export settings, click to select the image, then right-click on it and select Object Export Options; then select the EPUB and HTML tab:

This menu allows very elaborate, granular settings for each selected image and can overcome both layout/export issues and enable possibilities not accessible with the global export. This can be a very complex process, and you will probably want to read the accompanying essay on EPUB Image Management for further understanding.

Without going too far into the complications, then, I recommend that you set image management to Rasterize Container, and use the Size setting at bottom to assign either a (fixed) Custom Width (in pixels, at 144/inch) or None to get a maximum image size on the reader screen. Avoid enabling Custom Layout until you are prepared to master it; it can 'fight' with other image positioning and spacing settings. For all further experimentation, see the linked essay.

The final element on a frontispiece page, which can be omitted but is traditional, is an image caption. It should be kept short, and tucked in to something like image width, if not a little less. The text style [FRONTISPIECE] may be styled any way you like, but normally resembles the book's body font. This example is, in ID:

  • 11 point Cambria
  • Zero spacing on all sides

Spacing down from the image is set by the image Object Style bottom margin. This translates to the following CSS:

p.FRONTISPIECE {
font-family:serif;
font-size:0.9rem;
font-style:italic;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:normal;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:12px;
page-break-after:always;
page-break-before:avoid;
}

Note that the spacing is best transferred to this paragraph rather than left defined in the image's object style, and the page break settings to encourage a break-after.

Dedication Page

An alternative to a Frontispiece Page with an image on it is a Dedication Page, which carries only a short paragraph of dedication text. This page is identical to a frontispiece page except in the obvious detail that there is no image object, and the paragraph [Frontispiece-Dedication] needs to be formatted with visually pleasing space above:

  • 11 point Cambria
  • Two inches top spacing
  • Zero spacing on bottom
  • Side spacing to form pleasing line breaks without a soft return

...and nearly all of those are advisory and completely subject to the designer's esthetics. Dedications can be tiny, large, a few words, a whole paragraph, a very plain font or an elaborate display face, and other than usually being spaced down from the top margin, spaced and placed any way that seems appropriate. The CSS would be something like:

p.Frontispiece-Dedication {
font-family:serif;
font-size:1rem;
font-style:italic;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:normal;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:15%;
margin-right:15%;
margin-top:216px;
page-break-after:always;
page-break-before:avoid;
}

...that. Again, the top spacing and the page breaks are the critical elements here, and with a top break in both ID and CSS, the PageTopBreak paragraph could be omitted. (There is no need for a page-top anchor, among other things.)

This is also the basic model for other text "front" pages, such as the conventional list of other works by the author, promotional and review blurbs, and the like. Those pages will probably be best served by starting with the dedicated break and then using two or three paragraph styles to shape things like Title/Series/Year or Blurb/Author/Attribution content.

The overall model for these two examples is also how to build a three- or four-page section that might contain all of these elements, or (especially if the author's name is Patterson) a very long list of prior works or gushing praise. Just keep in mind that pages have to come in sets of two for print but can be an odd number for EPUB export. When possible (in print), though, a blank page facing the next element, the title page, is a design grace note.


The Title Page

The only front matter pages that are really essential are the copyright page, which we'll get to next, and the crown jewel of the set, the title page. We've already addressed the top of this page as the Half-Title Page; again, these two pages (usually, traditionally) should have identical content down to where the new content begins (usually with author name) start. If a half-title page is used, there should be no difference — font, size, spacing, color/shading, detail art — between their shared elements.

If you need to, review the Half-Title Page information to bring the [TITLE] and [SUBTITLE] paragraphs to this page. When you have them looking identical, we can move on.

And, if you want to keep your front matter modern and streamlined, you can omit the prior pages and use only the Title and Copyright pages, with a dedication, if used, at the top of the latter

The one difference between a half-title page, if used, and the title page is that being further into the document, the latter won't have the natural, automatic page top of the first document page. Therefore, a hard page break must be enforced for the Title Page. This can be done in ID by setting the [TITLE] style Keep: Start on: Next Page — precisely and preferably, Next Odd Page so that it's properly pushed forward to a recto page.

In EPUB export, any such Keep setting should result in a page-break-before of 'always,' which will take care of the matter for some e-book formats and readers. However, to be absolutely certain of the break (as with Chapter headings, as we'll see), another export feature has to be invoked.

The EPUB Page Split

EPUB, and thus EPUB export, including that through InDesign, has a feature that helps enforce "new page starts" even in readers that do not paginate the flowing content. Just as the very first page of an EPUB document is subject to special rules, will always start on a new display page and often supports top-spacing for the first paragraph, splitting the document internally will create such a new 'first page' anywhere desired.

The technical aside: All content in EPUB documents is contained in an HTML file much like that used for any web page. (The actual sub-format is the otherwise outdated XHTML, so we'll continue with that term.) By simply breaking this content file into multiple segments, a separate section with its own 'first page' can be created at any point. There are other reasons to split EPUB files, but at this late stage of the technology, the primary reason to induce a split is to create that 'first page' and force a new reader page with its special characteristics. In general, this is all invisible to the InDesign developer of EPUB/Kindle books, managed through an export setting.

Splits are largely invisible to both the designer and the end user, other than usually forcing that new-page start.

Splitting an EPUB export, whether once or many times, is trivial in InDesign but like so many other simple, fundamental features, it needs forethought and planning to use well. The control point for a split is any designated paragraph style, such as "Chapter Heading." From there, there are two ways to implement splits.

In the InDesign EPUB export menu, under General, is a checkbox for Split Document:

When checked, the export process will split the document (at the XHTML content level) in one of two ways, selected by the adjacent radio buttons:

  • At each instance of a single designated Paragraph Style. This is a crude, quickie method that should be avoided except for very simple 'one and done' projects such as reports, where splitting at each chapter or section head is adequate.
  • At each instance of each Paragraph Style designated for splitting in its defintion, where any number of styles can be designated for a split. This is the proper method, even if only a single style is used for splitting. It takes a bit more time to set up and manage, but allows much greater flexibility, as well as access to some other useful export options.

Regardless of which method you choose, note that splitting can be turned on and off with that one checkbox. But let's assume you're going to use the more thorough option.

For each paragraph style at which you want to split the exported EPUB, open its Paragraph Style definition. Under Export Tagging, check the Split Document box. That's it. The document will now be split just before each instance of that paragraph (when the global split box is checked).

What's better is that you don't have to manage document splitting by entering each paragraph style definition, nor have to remember which styles were set to split. InDesign offers a comprehensive export menu, a bit hidden away under the Paragraph Styles 'hamburger' (three-line) menu icon. In that panel menu, click Edit All Export Tags.

The important columns here are Include in HTML, which controls whether any style information is exported, and Split EPUB, which designates that style for XHTML splitting. (On that first, it is good practice to prevent sending unused styles — defaults, print only, developer notes — to the CSS export, just to reduce clutter. Note the un-checked styles in the above list.)

Here you can see that the export, as set up in the sample file, splits the file at the [PageTopBreak], [TITLE], [Copyright-1st] and [Chapter Heading] styles. That forces each of those styles to be first on a new virtual page, and allows the other variable permissions of being at the beginning of a "first page." Other styles can be added and removed from the 'split list' with an un/check in this dialog.

Following the title and subtitle, the [AUTHOR] paragraph is simple. It's modestly sized, serif font for a graceful contrast, and has some spacing above:

  • 10 point Cambria Bold Italic
  • 24 points top spacing
  • Zero spacing on bottom and sides
  • Right aligned

Which exports to:

p.AUTHOR {
font-family:serif;
font-size:0.9rem;
font-style:italic;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:bold;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:24px;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:auto;
}

Consider this an example and model in all ways of "middle text" that neither begins a page nor ends it.

The next element on the page is the publisher's logo, which is optional but usually appears here, on the copyright page or both. It is in a graphics frame with an Object Style of {LOGO}, which simplifies its management and export, but this is a spot where some interactive formatting is needed to get an optimal result.

That graphics frame is anchored to the end of the [AUTHOR] paragraph. The formatting is nearly identical to that for the Frontispiece image, so refer to that for details and set up the logo image as follows, using the {LOGO} Object Style:

  • Anchored to end of preceding paragraph ([AUTHOR])
  • Centered on page
  • Text Wrap 'Both Sides'
  • Bottom margin 0
  • Top margin fills space to [AUTHOR] paragraph

Most of that is straightforward — place the image, apply the Object Style, drag the frame to the bottom center of the page (smart guides help, here), set the top margin to just reach the Author paragraph without forcing it to break below.

Then add the Publisher text, if used; it may be a name and city, as shown (even though the name is redundant in this case; it should be included if the logo does not contain the name), or just the city. Multiple lines should be separated with soft returns. Apply the [PUBLISHER] style, which in InDesign should be:

  • 7 point Calibri
  • Zero spacing all around
  • Center aligned
  • Tight leading (8 pt suggested)

which will use similar CSS styling:

p.PUBLISHER {
font-family:sans-serif;
font-size:0.6rem;
font-style:normal;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:normal;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:0;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:0;
page-break-after:always;
page-break-before:avoid;
}

...and is set to force a page break afterwards.

Tweak the space below the logo frame so that there is a pleasing but small separation below (often achieved with zero extra spacing, as here). Reposition the logo, if necessary, to place the Publisher text right at the bottom margin of the page. Then adjust the top spacing to just touch the Author paragraph and prevent any text wrap between the Author and Publisher paragraphs.

The goal, overall, is to have the Publisher text touch the bottom margin, the logo above that text without crowding it, and then no text above the Logo to the Author paragraph. Adjust all the positions and spacing until this is achieved.

That completes the print layout for this page. For the EPUB export, you will need to set the Object Export Options for the logo image, as you did for the Frontispiece image. Rasterize Content and a Custom Width of about an inch to an inch and a half — start with 150px — is appropriate.

The last step is to set, In the CSS code, the top-spacing value that will push the logo far enough down to appear at the bottom of the Kindle (and EPUB) screen, without usually breaking to the next virtual page. This is another place for some interactive adjustment.

Setting Page Heights for Kindle

Since there are no absolute pages in EPUB/Kindle, content may break at any point depending on a dozen factors, few of which are under the control of the designer. In front matter, we'd prefer that each page remain intact under as many circumstances as possible. That means that "tall" pages like the Title or Copyright need to be adjusted to find a balance between a pleasing vertical distribution and breaking over to the next page on a reasonably sized screen.

Setting these heights in Kindle usually produces an acceptable result for most EPUB readers as well, so the proofing should be done in Kindle Previewer. You will probably find that the print page layout is contained on a single page using the Tablet emulation mode. However, the shorter E-Reader mode will often clip the publisher text and/or logo. To move it up, specify a value in CSS:

div.LOGO {
margin-top:216px;
}

In general, front matter pages should be given a height that fits the shorter E-Reader display, even if they come up somewhat compressed on the Tablet or other displays. Proof again, on both Tablet and E-Reader, until you find a spacing value that has the bottom elements a small margin onto the latter page. If the bottom of the page is crowded, you may wish to tweak the export spacing for all the page elements, to get a more balanced look.

Whether you test, or try to adjust your work to fit well on the small "Phone" emulation screen is up to you; my feeling is that, unless it's meant to be a mobile document like a field guide, users trying to read a book on their phone get their due, and are used to it. Trying to make pages fit such a small, narrow display can only compromise the look on larger reader pages.

We'll do this process again for the Copyright page.


The Copyright Page

It is traditional, in print, to have the page with the copyright declaration on the verso of the title page. In an e-book, the copyright page should follow the title. In the simplest but still professional e-book layout, the page order should be Title, Copyright, first content page.

The first paragraph on the Copyright page should be the formal copyright declaration.

Use either 'Copyright 2024' or '©2024' — never a combination. The elements are legally identical and the old rule of having to be formally registered to use the symbol no longer exists. But 'Copyright ©2024' is... an amateur gaffe.

Here, this is the [Copyright-1st] paragraph style, which uses the rule-above method to place it two inches down the InDesign page. To be sure this paragraph breaks to a new page and spaces down, an EPUB split should be defined for the paragraph, as shown above.

Copyright page text should always be smaller than the body font — around 80% of the body size. It is amateurish and crude to use body-sized text for the copyright text, or worse, as is sometimes seen in large books, even larger type. Trust me. This, along with 'Copyright ©,' is a quick touchstone I use to judge the design quality of a book, and I'm not alone.

A copyright page may have absolutely nothing but that three- or five-word declaration. But traditionally, this is where all publication legalese goes. This isn't the place to exhaustively list and discuss all that stuff, but a look at any selection of commercially published books will teach you much. For each line or paragraph of that material — specific permissions and related copyrights, usage notices, edition statements and things like Library of Congress cataloging info — use the [Copyright-2nd] style, which imposes a 24-point or -pixel space above.

A common variation in a copyright page is to make the first item a dedication of one or a few lines, positioned near but not at the top of a page. The next line, set well down, would be the copyright declaration. Modify the set of styles given here for that format.

It is traditional to put the full publisher name, address, web address etc. at the bottom of the copyright page as well. For this use the [Copyright-3rd] style, which has a page break after defined as well as a nominally larger top spacing. Once the page is fully assembled, you need to adjust the top spacing in InDesign to place the bottom line just-at the bottom margin, and then repeat the process above for the Title page to get this paragraph just within the bottom margin of the Kindle E-Reader page. Again, if that adjustment puts the publisher info too close to the last copyright info, adjust all three Copyright styles, in ID and CSS as needed, for a pleasing distribution.

Here is a summary of the InDesign styles:

  • 9 point Cambria
  • 12 point leading
  • Centered
  • 1st variation: 18pc top spacing, 1pc bottom spacing
    • page break before
    • EPUB page split before
  • 2nd variation: 1pc top spacing, 0 bottom spacing
  • 3rd variation: 22pc top spacing, 0 bottom spacing

And the CSS statements:

p.COPYRIGHT-1st, p.COPYRIGHT-2nd, p.COPYRIGHT-3rd {
font-family:serif;
font-size:0.75rem;
font-style:normal;
font-variant:normal;
font-weight:normal;
line-height:1;
margin-bottom:24px;
margin-left:0;
margin-right:0;
margin-top:216px;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:always;
}

p.COPYRIGHT-2nd {
margin-bottom:0;
margin-top:12px;
page-break-after:auto;
page-break-before:avoid;
}

p.COPYRIGHT-3rd {
margin-bottom:0;
margin-top:240px;
page-break-after:always;
page-break-before:avoid;
}

Congratulations; you're more or less done with your book's front matter. One more finishing step, though.


The First Content Page

Just to wrap up the issue of front matter and let you get on with formatting the body of your book, let's look at the first content page, which should follow the Copyright Page, with or without a blank leaf (blank pages, back to back) in between.

The actual content may begin with any of a number of things — a Foreword, an Introduction, a synopsis of the first two volumes of a trilogy, or just "Chapter One."

Yes, there's a difference between a foreword and an introduction. Loosely speaking, forewords are written by some second party, not the author, and address the book from "outside" — its history, authority, place in the literary universe, etc. Introductions are written by the author and lay any necessary groundwork the reader might need to know before starting Chapter One.

There are endless details and minor esthetic choices for laying out body content and things like chapter or section heads. What's shown here is one traditional set.

The [Chapter-Heading] style should be relatively large and bold. Unless it's essential to save page space, chapter heads are often set well down the page both for visual esthetics and to help readers locate chapter breaks (in both print and e-book). This will use the rule-above spacing within ID, and top spacing plus an EPUB split in the export. (If you use a chapter number and a chapter title, it is best done as two paragraphs, with the number having the top space and the title having the bottom space.)

That bottom space should provide a pleasing, proportional gap between the title and the text.

And for commercial, professional body copy, the combination of text spacing, justification, leading (line height), inter-paragraph spacing is... an entire library of arguments in itself. However, using a small first line indent on body copy improves readability, and omitting that intent on first paragraphs improves esthetics... in my opinion.


The Pro Approach

If you are experienced with the elements of this process — InDesign styles, export setting and EPUB export, and CSS — you will probably find a streamlined approach more useful. Here are the elements you'll need.

Component Files

Here are all the component files you'll need to explore and experiment with this example and its elements:

Working Notes

Here are some basic notes for using and exploring this from the file set:

  • Put all four files in an accessible folder.
  • Open the IDML file, then save it as an INDD file under any convenient name.
  • Make sure both graphics files are found and loaded, then save again if necessary.

The IDML file should be left untouched other than to open/save as workfile, so you always have a backup/clean start file at hand.

  • The first time you open the EPUB Export menu (Ctrl+E, select EPUB (reflowable) and specify an export file name in the work folder), make sure the CSS file is in the working list under CSS/HTML.

The file uses both Layers and Conditional Text.

  • You can probably delete the Notes layer, as it was used only to generate the side material for the page images above.
  • You can also use layers to control print/EPUB content variations, such as putting a separate Half-Title text frame on a layer. (This won't work with the file as structured; the half-title content may vanish, but is still part of the export flow.)
  • Experiment with the four Conditional Text options to see how they can be used in a dual-format document:
    • LayoutMarkers will make the visible portion of the page-break paragraphs invisible.
    • ShowDedication will turn the text dedication page content on and off.
    • ShowGranny will turn the frontispiece page image and caption on and off.
    • ShowHalfTitle will turn the half-title content on and off.
    • ...and conditional text does disappear from both print and export documents when turned off.
  • Use Kindle Previewer for experimentation proofing (and eventual Kindle publication, of course).
  • Use Calibre Reader for strict EPUB proofing and comparison.

All comments, feedback and questions welcome; you can check the Adobe InDesign Forum for an active thread in which you may already find answers or post your questions.


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