Ebooks and publishing

I wrote a guest article at Website In A Weekend, run by Dave Doolin. It’s about ebooks and publishing and trust and credibility. I’m also described as “Vincent’s talents are manifold, as one would expect from a polymath.” That rocked. Go read that article.

How to self-publish a magazine

When I was starting out trying to get email subscribers to my magazine, I wrote a small ebook to give away as an incentive to subscribe. I’ve decided to just give it away for free. It’s called “How to self-publish an online magazine – Parry publishing pitfalls on a bread-and-butter budget”.

Download it for free (about 900 KB)

I just reread my own ebook. I found this particularly funny:

What do you mean you don’t know if there’s a next issue? Of course there’s a next issue.

You’d be amazed at how few online magazines are out there. Just so you know, I found a magazine that only had 1 article. It documented a party event, and was hosted online, so it’s all on one web page. But if packaged into a PDF, I’d say it’s about 5 pages at most. Can you write a 5-page magazine? Doesn’t seem so daunting, right?

The ebook was intentionally spartanly designed. I want the reader to start a magazine without being fearful of design issues. I’m not a designer, I make do with whatever skills and tools I have, and I do just fine.

For the April issue of Singularity, I’ve got an interview with Thom Chambers, a publisher of another magazine called In Treehouses. Stay tuned.

Magazine publishing part 2 – Page settings

You learned about fonts in online magazine publishing in part 1. Today I’ll tell you about page settings.


There are 2 page orientations to choose from: portrait and landscape.
Portrait versus Landscape

The traditional physical magazines are in portrait orientations. My guess is that it’s easier to flip. When opened, the visible surface area (squarish) is easy to read (and probably scan), and the centre of gravity of the opened magazine is positioned to easily balance on one hand. And on newstands, the magazines “stand out” (get it, “stand out”? “Tall”? Portrait? *sigh*)

On a computer screen, a landscape orientation might be a better choice. How many computer screens have you seen that are in portrait orientation? Exactly.

When you read an online magazine in full screen mode, the magazine in landscape orientation fills the entire screen or much of it. There’s no balancing act, no physical flipping of pages. Going to the next page is often a click away.

A portrait orientation often squeezes the text on a page if not viewed at the normal size (100%). You have to scroll up and down to see the whole page. In landscape mode, the whole page can be seen on the screen without much distortion (if at all).

Page size

When I started Singularity, I used Microsoft Word. The default page size was 11.69 by 8.27 inches. This is the A4 size for physical paper. This also gave me a lot of trouble because I work with images.

Images have this setting called Dots Per Inch (DPI) or Pixels Per Inch (PPI). When you add an image, Microsoft Word sizes the image according to its DPI. So if you have an image with dimensions 480 by 360 pixels at 72 DPI (fairly common), you get an image that’s 6.67 by 5 inches in physical size.

Why is this important? Because getting images to bleed properly (I’ll tell you about bleeding in another article) or to position nicely on the page is a chore. The image would be off by 0.01 inch, and on the screen, there’s a 1-pixel-width of blankness. No amount of manipulation gave a satisfactory solution.

So my suggestion to you when creating an online magazine: choose dimensions that are in “round” figures. My current page size is 12 by 8.5 inches. Use increments of 0.5 inches (assuming your images have dimensions that are even numbered). By that measurement, a full page image in a 12 by 8.5 inches magazine is 1152 by 816 pixels (96 DPI). Much better than having fractions in calculating your pixel dimensions…

It’s an online magazine. You don’t have to follow physical world dimensions (or even standard dimensions).

Page margins

I keep a 0.5 inch margin from the edge for text (unless for decorative or style reasons). No special reason other than it keeps the text looking neat. Since your online magazine is not meant to be printed, you don’t really need a margin. But having a margin makes it easier to read. That’s more important to your readers.

Margins only apply to text. Bleed images (I know I know, I’ll get to image bleeding…), that is, fit an image to the edge of the page. Fill the edges with coloured pixels. Make it look beautiful.

In Microsoft Word, I could only bleed the cover image on the first page. I don’t know why Word can’t bleed images on other pages too. It did it for the cover image, right? Then I discovered I also have Microsoft Publisher, so I gave that a try. I could bleed images! Yay!

Next in the series…

Alright, alright, I’ll talk about bloody bleeding images… Do you have a question on page settings in your online magazine? Ask in a comment.

Magazine publishing part 1 – Fonts

With a few issues of my magazine published already, I feel confident enough to write about the process. In my free ebook (which you can get by subscribing to Singularity. Sign up at the blog), I told you to use only 2 different fonts in your magazine, 3 at most. The truth is, you can use as many fonts as you like. It’s your magazine. However, I told you to select only 2 or 3 fonts because I don’t want you to be paralysed by choice. I’m going to teach you more about font selection here.

4 broad categories of fonts

Fonts can generally be categorised into the following:

  • Serif fonts
  • Sans serif fonts
  • Fixed width fonts
  • Fancy fonts

Serif fonts have decorative features on the characters. “Times New Roman”, “Georgia” and “Cambria” are serif fonts.

Sans serif fonts don’t have those decorative features (“sans” means “without”). “Arial”, “Helvetica” and “Calibri” are sans serif fonts.

Fixed width fonts have, well, fixed widths for each character. This is especially useful to programmers because it makes code easier to read. “Courier New”, “Lucida Console” and “Consolas” are fixed width fonts.

Fancy fonts are designed for decorative purposes. “Chiller”, “Jokerman” and “Vivaldi” are fancy fonts.

Fancy font examples

Design for contrast

When designing for a web page, the conventional advice is to use a serif font for headings and a sans serif font for text. This is because sans serif fonts are easier to read on the screen, because they lack the decorative features which can crowd the pixels and make it hard to read. A serif font is used for the headings to provide contrast.

In physical print, it’s the opposite. That’s because a newspaper or a book has infinite resolution, so serif fonts work well. Those decorative features make it easier for a reader to quickly identify characters and thus it’s easier to read.

As for fonts in an online magazine, it’s meant to be read on the screen, so in general, design for that. However, a magazine is not a web page. Be creative. Use whatever font you feel suits the content. Use a font for emphasis, for decoration, for subtlety, for telling your story.

Size matters

I look at a computer screen a lot. So I appreciate larger font sizes so I don’t have to squint. For this reason, I decided on larger font sizes wherever it made sense. This might make even more sense because mobile devices can also read my magazine. Designing a magazine for mobile devices is a separate article altogether, since we might have to design for dynamic text and image flow while still retaining the look of the original article in the magazine (or even the magazine itself).

But feel free to experiment on font sizes for other types of texts. Blow up heading text for emphasis. Enlarge pull quotes. Dwarf answers to quizzes. Write fine print. Design for the screen, but deviate for design.

The fonts I currently use

I use “Perpetua” for the Singularity title on the cover page. Can’t remember which book I saw this on, but the font used was on the copyright page of the book (yes, I read that page too. I’m curious, ok?). Sometimes, publishers print the font in which the text is set on. I tried “Perpetua” with the text “Singularity”, and it looked great. Stately with decorum, yet not too formal. So that stuck.

Magazine text was originally set in “Calibri”, the default font in Microsoft Word (I’ll tell you about the tools I use another time). Now I use “Corbel” because it renders the text better for easier reading (to me at least).

On the front cover, I use “Candara” for supporting text. No special reason other than I wanted to try a different sans serif font than the magazine text font. It also looked great, so that stuck as well.

Here are some interesting fonts during my experiments:
Font suggestions

  • Castellar – Automatically in small caps. Great for decorative text
  • Copperplate Gothic – Also in small caps. Reminds me of Gotham City…
  • Edwardian Script – Alternative to the Vivaldi script
  • Elephant – If you want emphasis, get one of the largest land animals as a mascot
  • Harrington – Reminds me of book stores…
  • Palatino Linotype – Good-looking serif font. Consider using it for headings
  • Papyrus – For when you need writing that looks like it was written on old paper
  • Rockwell – For a feeling of solidarity

Ok, that’s it. If there’s anything you want to know, please comment.

E-zines: eco-friendly, evolved publishing, easy creation

That was the title of my Barcamp presentation on 9 October 2010. I thought the alliteration was a nice touch. *smile* Based on the lessons I learnt from my last Barcamp presentation, I needed a title that’s easy to understand and had enough “hook” words to “bait” the wandering attention of Barcamp attendees. And I believe the alliteration helped…

In this article, I’ll just tell you what happened during my presentation. Or at least the ideal presentation I wanted to give. There is additional information here that I didn’t talk about in my presentation. I’ll show you the pictures and tell you more of the event itself tomorrow. The general direction I had was, come up with main points, don’t rehearse too much, and wing the presentation. I didn’t want to spend too much of my time with abysmal returns like the last time.

The start of the presentation

So, this time, I had about 30+ people in the room, all waiting with bated breath and almost uncontrolled excitement for my awesome presentation. That’s compared to the 1 single person who stayed for my last Barcamp presentation. It’s a 3000% improvement! Good job, me. *argh* wait, hold on, I sprained my arm from patting my own back…

Ok, I started by asking the audience how many of them were bloggers. A few hands came up. Yes, audience participation (celebrate every little victory). Then I said I suck at blogging because after 3 years of regular writing, I only had 300+ regular readers. Where someone like you (pointing vaguely into the audience) would have like 23,745 readers (pulling the number out of thin air). So I started my own online magazine, where “e-zine”, “online magazine”, “electronic magazine” are interchangeable.

E-zines are eco-friendly, because there’s no paper, plastics or dyes involved in their creation. And electronic readers are getting better. We now have iPhones, iPads and the Kindle which are capable of displaying electronic publications in a pleasing format.

Demoscene and diskmags

Then I told them there was an extreme form of an e-zine. Before I told the audience what it was, I talked about the demoscene. I asked if anyone knows about the demoscene, and there was one guy who knew. I was extremely happy, because no one around me knew anything about it, so I’ve got no one to discuss it with. My only regret was I didn’t get his name. That was stupid of me. I’m an idiot…

Anyway, the demoscene is a computer art subculture that specialises in creating demos. A demo is a visual and audio show that runs in real-time on a computer. It’s meant to show off the skills of the programmers, artists and musicians involved in creating the demo. And the last 3 sentences were practically copied off the Wikipedia site…

There are contests on the file sizes of these demos. The popular ones are 64kB, 40kB, 4kB and even 1kB. Then that demoscene guy said there’s even the 128 byte demo. I really should’ve gotten his name… Well, the demoscene started out with cracked software. The programmers, wanting to show off their skills, cracked software without disabling the function. But to show they were there, they added a small animation. The result was that the addition must necessarily be small (in size) so as not to disrupt the software. Hence the file size limitation.

So there’s this guy who started a diskmag entirely devoted to the demoscene. The diskmag’s called Hugi (1st issue in May 1996). So what’s a diskmag? It’s a portmanteau of 2 words: disk magazine. It’s called a diskmag because the original diskmags were carried around on 3.5 inch floppy disks (remember those?). No audience reaction with “floppy disks”. Ok, maybe a few smiles. Oh well, you win what you can.

A diskmag is basically an executable that runs on your computer. In the old days, some diskmags even run specifically on certain computers such as the Amiga, Commodore or ZX Spectrum. So a diskmag acts like a mini-browser, with links to articles, artwork. And there’s music playing in the background. It’s a full media experience that’s a magazine. Which I believe to be the extreme form of an e-zine.

Blitzing through history of publishing

Then I took them on a brief ride in history. In the early days, scribes and monks spent hours and even days creating a piece of written work, typically religious teachings. Then came woodblock printing, sometime around 220 CE in China. Then I gave them a tidbit about CE. Did you know that Jews generally prefer to use Common Era (CE) than Anno Domini (AD)? That’s because Anno Domini is Medieval Latin for “In the year of our Lord”. And Jews don’t regard Jesus as the Lord.

Moving on, I told them of Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, who created the metal movable type around 1439 (see question/answer at end of article). This flexibility in arranging letters meant more varieties of printed material could be created. And the written word exploded. Books, newspapers and magazines appeared.

Then Tim Berners-Lee came along, proposing a network structure in March 1989. And on Christmas day, 25 December 1990, the World Wide Web was born. I don’t know what I was expecting from the audience at that, maybe some oooh’s and aaah’s. I think I’m being too dramatic…

So email became even more popular, powerful and useful (it’s supposed to have existed as early as 1973). Websites started popping up (my first site was created in 2005). Then blogs appeared. And then social media sites. And then we arrive at our current situation, where self-publishing e-books is becoming popular. There is now a trend reversal. Where once it was a few creating for many, the rest of us now also create, produce and publish.

Creating websites used to be difficult. Until blogs came along. There’s a perceived high barrier to entry. So it is with e-books, and I suggest, with e-zines. For e-zines, there’s an almost physical-like quality, which creates a sense of possession for the owner. Hopefully, this creates better retention and loyalty.

“If you can edit a Word document, you can create a magazine”

Then I gave them some websites that can help them (and you) host an e-zine.

I forgot my presentation punchline

I’m getting to the end of my presentation, and I forgot my punchline. I was supposed to tie the diskmag thing back in…

So the Internet marketers and A-list bloggers are all saying, video is gonna be big. And I say, what happens if video content comes in a package? What if video, audio, text and images are packaged together in one discrete unit? You basically get the diskmag. And an e-zine is going to be that much closer to that future diskmag format. And I remembered this part only after the 1st Q&A question, and I quickly talked about it. Talk about presentation fumbles…

Then I did a little shameless self-promotion. I told them about Singularity, my own e-zine. I was so nervous about it that I didn’t even tell them what Singularity was about and who it’s for. Talk about more presentation fumbles…

Then I told them of 2 e-zines already available for free. The first one is fear.less, an online magazine dedicated to telling stories of how people overcome their fears. This was the original inspiration for Singularity. I believe fear.less was created by the MBA students of Seth Godin (of whom no one in the audience knows, as expected).

The second e-zine is In Treehouses, an online magazine designed to help people reach their 1000 true fans. As expected, no one knew anything about the 1000 true fans concept, nor of Kevin Kelly. Oh well…

Apparently I took about 15 minutes for my presentation.

Barcamp presentation on e-zine

I overshot the recommended 10 minutes, but apparently quite a few presenters used up the entire 30 minutes given to them (some even cutting into the next speaker’s time). I think my friend Hisham was approving of my sticking to within my scheduled slot. I think…


I only had 2 questions from the audience. The first one wasn’t really a question and was from my friend Aaron (aka Singularity photographer). Aaron said that Koreans used metal movable type earlier than Johannes Gutenberg. I checked, and he’s right. The first known use was in China around 1040 AD, then in Korea around 1230 AD.

The second question was from Dave Chua. He said there’s Flipboard, an iPad app that functions like an e-zine (at the same time showing me his iPad). Yes that’s true. Flipboard works on the curation of you and the people you trust. It pulls in data from your Twitter and Facebook feed, as well as Twitter and Facebook feed data from your friends. The curation and aggregation is done by you (and your friends). With an e-zine, that’s done by someone else, the magazine’s editor.

It depends on your tastes. I should tell you that generally, you like what your friends like, and your friends like what you like. This also generally mean that you might never be exposed to new and interesting ideas outside of that sphere of interests.

Alright, that was long. Thanks for sticking this far with me. Let me know what you think. And I’ll see you tomorrow with my story of the Barcamp event itself.