Monday, October 3, 2011

“Impressions of Greece” and when to use Fixed Layout (EPUB Gallery)

Update: I've just received the print copy of The Artist on the Road: Impressions of Greece from Richard in the mail. It's just as beautiful as the iPad edition. And just as inspiring.

Vertical ImpressionsAbout ten days ago, I invited you readers to send me your EPUBs so I could share them here and we could all look at the interesting effects that you are using in your ebooks. I received a number of really nice looking ebooks, and today I am going to share the first with you.

This first book that I want to talk about is called Impressions of Greece (The Artist on the Road) and was written, illustrated, and produced by Richard Sheppard. It is a collection of sketches, watercolor drawings, and journal entries as Richard and his father traveled around Greece. It's really nicely done.

Although one of the reasons that I wanted to create an EPUB Gallery was to showcase how people are using advanced EPUB features, Impressions of Greece is careful about which features it uses in order to maintain the book's readability. I think that's a very important lesson: cool features that make the book less readable are not really that cool. Corollary: There is a time and place for [your favorite special feature] but that doesn't mean it's appropriate for every book.

Impressions Horizontal

In this case, Richard originally planned to create a fixed layout book, which made sense given the large amount of really lovely illustrations contained in the book and their importance to the project. However, he quickly realized that fixed layout is not well suited to large amounts of text—which his book also has. So instead of insisting that his beautiful drawings be rendered full screen with fixed layout, Richard used a flowing format that makes it easy to read the text while allowing readers to expand the beautiful illustrations full screen with a double click whenever they choose.

Impressions - full screen image

In addition, in order to maintain the feel of his journal, Richard had his handwriting converted to a custom font and used that font to display his text in the book, by specifying that font in the file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<platform name="*">
<option name="specified-fonts">true</option>

While I'm not entirely convinced by the handwriting font—I like the feeling it gives the book but I find it just a tiny bit distracting (and I think more leading would help)—the fact that readers can override it by choosing one of Apple's generic fonts in the Font menu make this less of a worry. This is the balance of control between reader and designer that I appreciate: the designer offers how they want the book to be displayed, but the reader has the final say.

Impressions of Greece (The Artist on the Road) can be purchased in EPUB format from the Apple iBookstore, and in paperback from Amazon. You can find out more about Richard, his books, and his sketching on his web site, The Artist on the Road.


If you would like me to review your EPUB book on my blog, all you have to do is send it to me. It can be fixed or flowing format, and though I'll need you to send me a DRM-free version, you can sell it anyway you like. Be sure to send me links where readers can buy your book if it's for sale. By sending me the file, you give me permission to display screenshots from the book and samples from the code on my website. I reserve the right to review just the books that I think my readers will find interesting (or that I find interesting myself!).

You can view all of the EPUB Gallery entries by clicking EPUB Gallery in the cloud of topics at right, or by searching for EPUB Gallery here on my site.


  1. Beautiful book!

    Does that handwriting font also display as you've shown it, when viewed on a non-Apple device?

  2. @Ken. Interesting question. It should, at least on a Nook (see, particularly the last screenshot).

  3. Sorry if this is a duplicate, I did not see the first go through. Did Richard use a lightbox style div and javascript to enable the double click to view the image full screen?


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