Crowdsource Challenge!

by wjw on March 17, 2012


My next ebook will be Aristoi, my insanely ambitious 1992 novel that came within a couple votes of a Hugo nomination.

But there’s a problem.  I can’t seem to format it properly.

See, parts of Aristoi had a unique structure.  The prose was displayed in two columns, the first a description of what was happening in the scene, the second a description of the complex things going on in the (posthuman) narrator’s head.

(This wasn’t gratuitous, but an attempt to visualize on the page what was happening in the narrator’s mental space.)

The only problem is that ebook formats don’t seem to take kindly to this unusual format . . .

Does anyone out there in Readerland have an idea of how to do multiple columns inside epub and mobi format?  And if you think you do, would you be willing to help me out, at least with a small sample section so I can learn how to do it myself?

Anyone providing an answer will receive a signed copy of any one of my works.  Your choice, provided of course that I have a spare copy myself.

Zora March 17, 2012 at 8:33 am

So far as I know, you can’t do columns in mobi and epub because those formats are reflowable. When the reader can change the size of the display (by switching devices) and the font size, there’s no doing columns.

What you can do is indent blocks of text and italicize. So you could have one thread of consciousness with no indent, a sentence or a para, and follow it with an indented sentence or para in italics.

I don’t think you could safely do three levels of indent. Someone trying to read on a small smartphone screen would see only gibberish. You might try alternating indents and using roman, italics, and caps.

Hildo March 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

There’s an ugly solution, which is to use a border-less table, with each column/paragraph a table cell. That works in epub, but I have no idea about mobi.

Let me know if you need an epub example.

Pat Mathews March 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm

David Brin tried to do something similar in _Earth_ and I found that any reader in which you could change the print size dealt with such things as if they were PDF — meaning readers, get out the high-powered magnifying glasses, you won’t be able to read them any other way.

I’d go with formatting this as dialog in two different fonts or styles as the only way around it.

Ralf The Dog. March 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I just created an HTML document using Dream Weaver with a table. I then converted it to MOBI using Calibre. It worked great. I will try epub next.

Ralf The Dog. March 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I needed a few minutes to find the option for saving to epub (Just a bit caffeine deficit today. When I found the option, it worked great.

wjw March 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I have had limited success with tables, but in .mobi (at least) the right column is cut off short of the right margin. I tried re-orienting the file to landscape rather than portrait, but the problem persisted.

I seem to have no current way to translate a file with tables into epub.

wjw March 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

People keep urging me to try Caliber, maybe it’s time . . .

Ralf The Dog. March 17, 2012 at 6:07 pm

After playing around with it a bit more, It will take a bit of work to get the formatting to work. If you want it to scale properly, you may need to add some hard returns to the tables (GACK!). I did get Epub to work, however, It did take some pounding.

If you would like, just PM me a sample paragraph on FB and I can email a few versions back to see what method works best for your text.

Max Kaehn March 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I would try a borderless table (which might need to be a bunch of tables with the same style to make sure they all have the right alignment, since flowing tables from page to page might break some e-readers), or have alternating paragraphs from each level in their own divs with width set to 75% and alignment of the div set to left or right. I could abuse the epub in Sigil and then ask Calibre to convert it to mobi if you want me to give it a try.

wjw March 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

Thanks, Max. Ralf is currently working on the problem in HTML, but if that turns cumbersome, I may give Sigil a try. I have a copy that I’ve been using to proof read this and that, so I’ll see what I can do with it.

drakes March 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

Tables were the what I thought of first as well.

In HTML+CSS another approach is to give the left column:

float: left; width: 50%;

And the right:

margin-left: 50%; display: block;

There are additional considerations (clearing) and I don’t have experience with epub/mobi to judge its efficacy, but if the previously mentioned methods come up short consider that there’s more than one way to skin this beast.

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