Setting up a new book

The process of setting up a new book is covered very briefly in our quick-start section. This is a slightly longer explanation. For much more detail, read the various sections listed on the docs starting page.

Creating a new book

To create a new book in a new project:

  1. Download from the latest release and extract it. This is now your project folder. You can rename it for your project. (We recommend avoiding spaces in the folder name.) Let’s call our example project my-sci-fi.

    Technical note: the latest release may not contain the most recent changes to the template. If you want those, make a copy of the template repo’s master branch, and discard its Git history (i.e. delete the .git folder in your copy).

  2. An Electric Book repo, or project folder, can hold one book or many, like a series of books that share similar metadata or features (e.g. they’re all by the same author).
  3. Inside my-sci-fi, open and edit these three files:
    • _config.yml: Edit the values there for your Jekyll setup. The comments will guide you.
    • Replace our template text with your own. Usually, a link to each book is useful, e.g. [Space Potatoes](space-potatoes).
    • Replace our template text with any notes your collaborators might need to know about your project. (The README file is usually only read in the context of editing the files in your folder/repo.)
  4. Optionally, rename the book folder with a one-word, lowercase version of your book’s title (e.g. space-potatoes). Use only lowercase letters and no spaces. If you’re creating more than one book, make a folder for each book. (In one-book projects, we usually just leave it called book.)
  5. Open _data/project.yml and replace the template values with your project’s information.
  6. In _data/works, edit the book’s default.yml file, filling in your project info and info about at least your first book. If your book is called ‘my-sci-fi’, you’ll need to copy and edit _data/works/book/default.yml as _data/works/my-sci-fi/default.yml.
  7. Inside a book’s folder, add a markdown file for each piece of your book, e.g. one file per chapter. Our template contains files we consider minimum requirements for most books: a cover, a title page, a copyright page, a contents page, and a chapter.
  8. Inside each book’s folder, store images in the images/_source folder. Add a cover.jpg image of your book’s front cover there, too.
  9. In each book’s styles folder, edit the values in print-pdf.scss, screen-pdf.scss, web.scss and epub.scss.

Marking a book as ‘unpublished’

Sometimes you are working on a book but you do not yet want it to be included in places like navigation lists and the content API. To mark it as unpublished, add published: false to its default.yml file.

Its HTML files will still be generated (unless you exclude them in a _config file), but it will not be listed in places that draw book data from _data/works.

Creating book content

Each markdown file in space-potatoes is a part of a book, such as a table of contents or a chapter. Each file must start with:


And between those ---s, we can and should specify some information about that part. This information is written in YAML syntax.

Note: the YAML between triple hyphens at the start of a markdown document is technically referred to as ‘YAML frontmatter’. We don’t use that term here, in order to avoid confusion with book frontmatter, also known as prelim pages. In these docs, we say ‘top-of-page YAML’.

In each file’s top-of-page YAML (the info between ---s at the top) we specify the book-part’s title and (sometimes) the book-part’s style to use for that part. The style specifies what kind of book-part it is, such as title-page.

If a page has a style set, it must include one of default-page, frontmatter-page, or endmatter-page in order to get margin-box content, like running heads and page numbers. Including style without one of these effectively turns off margin boxes, which may be your intention, for instance on a title-page, which never has running heads or page numbers.

Technical note: the style YAML sets the class attribute of the output HTML’s <body> element. That class is then used for CSS.

When you create your book, we recommend following these conventions for file naming and top-of-page YAML style settings:

Book section Example filename Style in YAML
Front cover (for the ebook) cover-page
Previous publications page previous-publications-page
Half-title page halftitle-page
Title page title-page
Copyright page copyright-page
Table of contents contents-page
Epigraph page epigraph-page
Acknowledgements frontmatter-page
Dedication page dedication-page
Part page part-page
A first chapter default-page
A second chapter default-page
Index endmatter-page

If you don’t set the style, the page will default to style: default-page. So you actually don’t need to set style: default-page in a YAML header. For most chapters in a book, then, your page YAML will simply include a chapter title:

title: "Chapter One: What are Space Potatoes?"

Page styles we’ve built into the template include:

Note that they all end with -page. Use only one -page style for a document. If you use more than one, only one of them will be applied.

You can also invent your own page styles, and use them in your custom CSS instead of these.

Set ‘page number one’

Many books have two ‘page ones’:

  1. the half-title or title page and,
  2. if the prelims have roman-numeral page numbers, the first chapter.

You should specify those pages so that Prince knows where to start numbering when creating PDFs.

Why? Well, for example, in print output if you use frontmatter-page on a book-part, by default it will have roman-numeral page numbers. When the first default-page starts, it will have decimal page numbers. However, the page numbering will be consecutive from roman through decimal. That is, it will run ‘ix, x, 11, 12’. You reset the numbering to 1 at the start of the first chapter to avoid this.

You reset page numbering by adding the class page-1 to the first block-level element on the relevant page.

You can do this in two ways:

  1. If a markdown document starts at ‘page one’, add the class to the style YAML header. E.g.

    title: Half-title page
    style: halftitle-page page-1

    And at the first chapter:

    title: Chapter One
    style: default-page page-1

    Remember that default-page is the default, so you normally don’t have to specify it. But if you want to add a class in addition to default-page, you must specify both classes. This is because, if you were to use style: page-1 in a YAML header, the class page-1 would override and replace the default style: default-page, not add to it.

  2. Alternatively, add the page-1 class to the first block-level element in the chapter by adding the tag {} in the line immediately after it. But for this to work, the element must not have a CSS float applied to it. So often this doesn’t work as well as specifying page-1 in top-of-page YAML.

Breaking chapters into smaller web pages

By default, when you generate a PDF, each markdown file – when rendered as part of a book – will start with a page break. This makes sense when each markdown file is a chapter of a book. You want page breaks between chapters.

However, on the web and in apps, each markdown file is a (web) page. There, an entire chapter as one scrolling page can be very long. This is not great for readability. (It also isn’t great for SEO or for finding search results.)

So, you can create separate markdown files for each section of your book, no matter how small. Then on the web and in an app, each scrolling page will only be that long.

But now your PDF is full of page breaks! This creates big lumps of white space between sections and bloats your book’s page extent.

So, to avoid a page break in PDF output before a markdown file, you must add the continued tag to its top-of-page YAML, like this:

title: Your Chapter's Subsection Title
style: default-page continued

Remember that default-page is the default page style, so you normally don’t have to specify it. But here you are adding a style in addition to default-page (or frontmatter-page or any other built-in page style listed above), so you must specify both default-page and continued.

File naming

We recommend naming each book’s markdown files in alphabetical order. This is easiest using a numbering system, where prelims (frontmatter) files start with 0 or 00, e.g.,, and chapter files are numbered for their chapter number, e.g.,, and so on. The alphabetical order makes it easy to see the documents in the right order at all times.

We recommend adding a few descriptive words to your filenames after the numbers (or other alphabetising prefix). E.g. There are two reasons for this:

Note: We recommend using leading zeros in file-name numbers – that is, rather than – because that sorts correctly in most file browsers. Otherwise, some file browsers will sort before In the rare event that you have over 99 chapters, use two leading zeros:

The images folder

Alongside the content files in a book’s folder is an images folder, for images that belong to that book only.

See ‘Adding image files’ for more detail.