Yearning for an Easier InDesign-to-ePUB Process

As popular as eBooks have become in the last few years, I continue to be surprised at how difficult it can be to create a high-quality eBook. It’s especially surprising how difficult it can be for a traditional-book designer to create an eBook from an Adobe InDesign file … while maintaining reasonably good control over the process. Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for publication design, so I keep expecting it to be on top of the game when it comes to exporting the most popular eBook file format: ePUB. Adobe may indeed be on top of the game, but it seems pretty darn early in that game. Adobe is still only slowly improving the ease and level of control it gives a user to create an ePUB.

The task is not impossible, but get comfortable with the fact that you may need to crack open the ePUB file to edit the HTML, CSS, and XML. If those acronyms sound familiar, the reason is that the ePUB file format is really just a website in a zip archive, and your favorite eBook reader serves as the specialized browser for that website.

There are a number of good resources that have helped guide me through the InDesign-to-ePUB process. I can imagine the day when this process will be much simpler. Until then, these links are where to go for guidance.

Features in Adobe InDesign CS6: the Highlights

Adobe InDesign CS6 has some new features that make converting a targeted-for-print book to eBook much easier than it was in the previous version. The highlights are covered in the below video by Anne-Marie Concepcion from Adobe and

Some of the key highlights include:

  • Documents can now be split into chapters based on tags assigned in chosen Paragraph Styles
  • Additional CSS stylesheets (eg. a “reset” CSS stylesheet) can be added to the exported ePUB via the Export dialog
  • Frame Attributes in Object Styles will be translated into CSS so the appearance of the frame in the ePUB will resemble its appearance in InDesign
  • Via an InDesign dialog box, images can now be floated left or right in the ePUB instead of merely being anchored between paragraphs

Of the points above, the first was the most useful to me. In InDesign CS5, in order to create chapter breaks, the document had to be split into multiple InDesign files — each file eventually becoming an ePUB “chapter”. The new solution saves a lot of effort during the conversion process if the client did a multi-chapter book layout in one InDesign file.

Scripts and other resources

There are several useful scripts that have made the process a little easier. Many resources like these are either free or their creators ask kindly for donations if you find them useful. InDesign, of course, is not free, but keep in mind other tools are available. Microsoft Word and Apple Pages, for instance, also export to ePUB.

ShowTextOverrides is a JavaScript that will enable a slick little InDesign menu item that will show you where any text in your document has a style applied to it that has been overriden. It accomplishes this by placing a red strikethrough through the overriden text. And you are diligently applying Paragraph Styles and Character Styles to everything, right? Doing so will give you more control over your book design — both in InDesign and in the subsequent ePUB. In the ePUB, your carefully named and applied styles will have been converted to CSS, which you can now easily edit or rewrite or replace if you choose.

If you are on a Mac, the following AppleScripts for ePUB creation will help with three tasks that I, at least, find myself doing a lot in the course of converting a book from InDesign to ePUB. A quick confession: I tend to spend a lot of time getting the navigational table of contents and in-book table of contents to look and work the way I want them to. That means a lot of testing/exporting the ePUB.

  • Unzipping the ePUB to edit the HTML, CSS, XML, and JPEGs it contains
  • Zipping the ePUB back up to test it or use it
  • Validate your ePUB so you can distribute it in e-stores such as iTunes that hold to ePUB standards

Alternates to the above AppleScripts are tools like Springy for editing ePUB contents and the International Digital Publishing Forum’s online ePUB validator.

 Yet more resources

These links were extremely helpful for me, and I hope they will be for you as well.






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