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Creating E-Books with Open Office

I've been using Open Office to create my two (so far!) e-books. My first attempts lacked some fairly important elements like a Table of Contents and an Index. Of course Open Office can be helpful in creating these, but it's still quite a bit of work, so my first efforts are a bit crude and clumsy.

Don't panic. I need to remind you once again that you will get FREE updates as I improve these. You get to buy it cheaply now and, if you want, you can just sit back and wait for the final product - don't even read it now if you are fussy about formatting and all that nice stuff.

How will you know when it's done? Well, I'll tell you and also the price will go up (or rather the discount code will go away). But you got it for much less because you bought early!

By the way, sales of these books aren't "through the roof", but enough are selling that I'm not paying close attention to buyers names. So, if we know each other personally and you bought one of these and are wondering why I didn't notice, well, that's why. Drop me a line with your comments and suggestions, please.

Anyway: Table of Contents. That's the easy one. You are supposed to be able to do this partially automatically be applying Heading Styles to your chapter and subchapter text, but I found that was a little unreliable so I reverted to specifically adding to the TOC. You just highlight your chapter heading text and choose "Insert->Indexes and Tables->Entry" and choose "Table Of Contents" and a level:


When you are ready to create your Table of Contents, just "Insert->Indexes and Tables->Indexes and Tables" and choose Table of Contents. You can change the looks of the TOC before applying it. When you need to regenerate, you simply right click on the Table and choose "Update Index/Table".

Creating indexes is a little more difficult. The mechanics are similar (you just choose "Alphabetic Index" instead of "Table of Contents") but you have to choose the words you want to index. You can be lazy about it and have Open Office automatically index all other instances of the word you just chose but that can lead to a large number of irrelevant pages in the Index. You also have to watch out that you select "Match Whole Words" when appropriate: I forgot to do that when I indexed "diff" in the Troubleshooting book, so "different", "difficult" and the like were indexed as "diff". Unfortunately, I haven't found any way to undo that en masse, so I've had to go through one by one fixing these. That's ok - I really need to go through everything carefully anyone to get the best index I can create. It's far from that now, but I'm working on it.

I remain a little confused by "Left-Right" pages. The idea is that you want the first page of chapters and headings to be on odd numbered or "right hand" pages so that they'll always start on a right hand page if printed out. Open Office help seems to understand that and references printing an extra blank page if it encounters two "right" pages in a row. That's fine, but it seems that you can't use that if you want the convenience of having different headers or footers on left and right pages and want to set it to automatically follow a left page with a right page. I found that once I had done that (per instruction in the Help), I could no longer force a particular page to be a "right" page when starting a chapter. Obviously I'm misunderstanding something; I'll keep at it. For now, if I want new chapters to be "right", I have to manually insert blank pages when needed. That can't be right.. I could live with that if I were done adding content, but because I'm still adding to these e-books regularly, that's very annoying.

Tony Lawrence 2008-12-04 Rating: 3.5

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© Anthony Lawrence

Fri Dec 12 09:38:44 2008: 4917   drag

personally I've always hated using WYSIWYG editors.

I've discovered that I prefer to work in Restructured text mark-up. RestructedText was originally developed for creating documentation for python projects, docstrings.. Python has a nice tradition of self-documenting code and modules so while your working in a python shell you could fire up 'print(moduleName.__doc__)' and get something useful to read. Well this sort of thing has been quite a bit extended.

As far as mark-up languages are concerned it's very easy to work with. It's based on conventions that people created for themselves for making plain ascii documents more readable.. like ascii-art for tables, using lines of #####'s for underlining titles and that sort of thing.

Some more information:

So it has very high level of potential. Doing things like generating footnotes to links and links to tables of contents is just drop dead easy.

A example of a hello world document would be like:

Hello World Document

.. attention::
This is a sample document

.. sectnum::

:Author: Drag
:Version: 0.1

.. contents::


This is my hello world document.

My content

Hello World

So that's what it would look like. Then you can use 'rst2latex' to convert it to latex, and then from that to any number of formats including pdf. Then there are rst2html and rst2odt and that sort of thing.

There have been numerous attempts to turn this sort of markup into blog entry software and whatnot, but it's not really suited to that sort of thing... it's not designed to stop malicious user input and that sort of thing.

Popular text editors like Vim or Emacs have special rst-related modules for doing syntax highlighting and whatnot. What you do to get professional looking results is to play around with templates and whatnot to get the look-n-feel you want for the published documentation.

The nice thing about this approach is that the syntax is much easier to handle then more complex languages like Latex. The nice thing about mark-up in general is you get the very good advantage of separating content from presentation. By doing this you can simply write out what you want to have displayed in a quick manner without worrying about how it's going to look or formatting it to different display formats (like Web html vs published article) and that sort of thing. Then once you have the document written you can taylor it to work best on the specific format your targeting for.

This approach to documents has similar advantages of using CSS in conjunction with Div tags instead of using HTML frames and tables to make nice websites.

There is one interesting project that I've looked at that I've haven't had much of a chance to play around with yet. But it's sphinx: (link) It's a project for creating a sort of build environment for documentation. Their own website is built using it and If you look at the html version of their documentation vs the pdf version of their documentation you'll see how each format look dramatically different even though they were both generated from the same RestructuredText markup files. And they have links to other websites and documentation generated from sphinx scripts.

Fri Dec 12 12:12:53 2008: 4919   TonyLawrence

I like the sound of that - thanks!

Kerio Samepage

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