A new client asked me to format an eBook for him to market on Amazon and iTunes. I was pretty excited. Having been a book designer for years, I’ve been watching the rise of the eBook (and the decline of the print book) with alternating feelings of fascination, dread, and excitement. I had done a little research on eBooks, but I hadn’t tried my hand at creating one. This was a great (and paid) opportunity to do so. I discovered some interesting things.
1. It’s not as easy as it should be
Adobe InDesign is the biggest software tool for book publishing out there. It has a clear “Export for EPUB” menu item. That should be all there is to it, right. Build the book, export. Well, okay, I figure all the text has to be in one thread, and the graphics need to be anchored in the text, and keep the layout very basic. That seemed obvious to me. It was only the beginning. Adobe has a video series on the process that was very helpful, but I thought it was silly that the process needs to include two other pieces of software — shareware, no less — in order to tweak the EPUB file and any other eBook format you need to create: Calibre and Springy. It was also silly that I had to search for this stuff and poke through a white paper on the topic. In order to have a decent EPUB file, it seems you need to tweak the CSS after InDesign exports it, so Springy is required to access the CSS file within the EPUB. Further tweaking and the ability to export to different formats such as .mobi for the Amazon Kindle is provided by Calibre. Isn’t the eBook market going nuts right now? Why is Adobe not more on top of this and providing a comprehensive solution?
2. eBook readers seem to be quirky in how they choose to display things
Or maybe the problem is my file. I need to read up on Apple’s iBooks app on their iTunes Connect site. If a graphic does not fit on a page immediately after the preceding text, the iBooks app will start the graphic on one page and finish it on the next. That’s a problem. Stanza, another eBook app does not do that. My client also had a problem where iBooks on the iPad would not display the cover page for the book. So, likely, my file is not up to standards. Or the readers are just doing their own thing. The Kindle file also had issues I was able to resolve with export options found in Calibre. Hopefully I can resolve all of these issues soon. Regardless, my client was satisfied with the results and has more eBooks for me to work on.
It’s exciting to create something in a new media and learn about the process. I’m glad for the opportunity to broaden my book production knowledge, and I can’t help but wonder how exciting it would be to work on an enhanced eBook. The headway Apple made in this area with the iPad is very exciting, with the publication of The Elements being in the vanguard of enhanced eBooks. I realize enhanced eBooks go well beyond the capability of standard formats. The Elements as well as other books like it are stand-alone apps. There’s a lot more learning required to enter that field, I suspect.
3. An EPUB file is a zipped Web site.
The elements enclosed in an EPUB file are JPG files, HTML files, CSS, files, XML files and a few other files specific to the EPUB specification. It really is pretty funny that way — it’s a Web site. It almost seems that the program to be using in the design of eBooks is Dreamweaver rather than InDesign.
The MobileRead Wiki entry on eBook Conversion. It has a huge number of links to resources.
The Wikipedia entry on ePUB, which explains the history of ePUB and just what the heck it is.