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eBooks

Many clients have material that has been designed for print but also want to make it available for e-reader devices like Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, or a variety of other devices, such as smart phones. Word Wizards is on the cutting edge of design firms who can create eBooks compatible with any e-reader. This document is intended to be a resource for folks who are new to eBooks. We are excited to work with you as we venture forth into a new and fast-changing field of digital publishing.

What is an eBook?

An eBook is a file or collection of HTML, CSS, XML and other files wrapped together in a zip archive that can be uploaded to a mobile device, most often a tablet or smart phone, and read as you would a book. It can contain photos, audio and video. Think of it as a self-contained, static web site (meaning no interactive elements whose functionality would be implemented via javascript or back-end programming) on your tablet, phone or computer screen. Basically, it’s the Web, except we’re back in the 90s. Its main advantage over, say, a PDF is that PDFs are fixed documents that don’t change format to accommodate the size of the display; eBooks re-flow the content to suit the screen size.

Currently, there are two main document formats: the Mobi format, used by Amazon’s Kindle line of e-readers, and the open standards-based ePub format, used by Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and a host of others.

The Typical Workflow

A typical workflow involves beginning with your InDesign files and repurposing the content to end up with finished ePub and Mobi files. Usually, the better formatted the InDesign documents are (and we’ll explain what that means in a moment), the less time we’ll likely spend in the HTML and CSS files.

From InDesign we export to ePub. That can be a highly iterative and time-consuming process, since we’re busy tweaking the CSS as we go along and testing what it will look like. Once we’re satisfied that we’re going to get the best export we can we export the InDesign document to ePub and begin editing the HTML and CSS files themselves, cleaning up the code InDesign leaves behind and tweaking whatever couldn’t be tweaked in InDesign.

When we’re satisfied that the code is clean and will work fairly generically, the metadata is in place, and the TOCs are all formatted correctly, we will split it up into two code bases, one for ePub and the other for Kindle Mobi. We do that because the two treat CSS differently and have different TOC and cover requirements, so code that works well with one can interfere with another.

Once the code is set and everyone is happy with the formatting, we’re done; that is, unless you want to upload the files to the Apple iBookstore or Amazon’s bookstore. Then we need to go through a separate process called validation, whereby we submit our code to software that will tell us whether those bookstores will accept the files. It’s always something with validation–leave some time in the production schedule for the headaches. Please be advised you will need to purchase an ISBN number if you want to sell your book through these stores.

Finally, we upload!

Starting With InDesign: How You Can Help

If, as our client, you’re starting from scratch and you know the InDesign document or book you’re producing will eventually be reformatted for ePub, then there are a few things you can do with your InDesign files that will save a lot of time in the ePub production process:

  • Be sure every last formatted item, down to the last italicized variable in a mathematical expression, is styled and that there are no style overrides. If you see a little plus sign after a paragraph or character style in a style palette when you click in the text, create a new style for it;
  • Create meaningful style names that are as short as possible and avoid any hyphens in them. We recommend you use camel case (first word lowercase, first letter of second word capitalized, with no space in between, e.g., theName, or bulletNoIndent). All of the styles used in your document are going to be turned into CSS style definitions of one sort or another;
  • Keep your style names consistent. If you have different team members working on individual files in a book document, get together and agree on style names and stick to them;
  • Assign alt text to all your photographs. You do that by selecting Object Export Options…in the Objects menu with your photo selected. Make sure the Alt Text tab is selected and enter your description there. We try to be as descriptive as time allows, describing the action as non-judgmentally as possible. It’s important to remember that you’re not writing a caption, which responsible for the context of the photo; you are merely describing for a person who cannot see what is going on.

Bear in mind that we will happily comb through your document and make these adjustments as a service for you, but it is time consuming and will be factored in our cost estimate.

Fonts

This is a hard pill for most designers to swallow, but with eBooks you may have to give up your fonts. We say may because while fonts can be embedded in the ePub format, it’s up to you to make sure you legally have a license to distribute them. It’s very unlikely that you do with the fonts you’re using for your print publishing work.

Unfortunately on black-and-white Kindles you’ll be giving up your fonts altogether for the device’s default fonts. The good news is that the popular Kindle Fire is much more flexible in that regard than the black-and-white Kindles. As always, the iPad is the most flexible in this regard. It has about 30 or so built-in fonts from which we can draw (although iBooks limits to a degree, the manner in which we can use them!).

It is possible to embed fonts from Google Fonts in a ePub format eBook, so it may be worth a trip there to see if they have something you’d like to use. There are a bunch of free web fonts out there on the Internet (some better than others) so if you’d like to use any of those we encourage you to find something you like, let us know, and we can include them as part of your ePub book. Font Squirrel is a good choice and has a ton of great fonts.

Formatting and Page Layout

Since the main advantage of ePub formats is their ability to flow inside of varying screen sizes, layout is a tricky issue. No longer are we designing in magazine spreads or brochure panels, we’re designing for areas as small as a phone or as large as an iPad (or even a computer screen if a reader chooses to consume your eBook that way). We have found that the simplest approach to layout is probably the best for most cases. We can wrap text around photographs, for example, but an image can vary widely in size from one device to another, so that is fraught with its own issues. We choose to design vertically and pay as much attention to the quality of the typography as the technology allows.

Metadata

Basic metadata is needed for the files to display properly in the e-readers and validate acceptably within the online bookstores. We like to include more metadata than is strictly needed because that increases the likelihood that someone searching for your book on one of the online stores will find it. The recommended types (drawn mostly from the Dublin Core set of terms, if you’re interested) are:

  • Author
  • Contributors (such as editors, if necessary)
  • Title
  • Publisher
  • Language
  • Publish date
  • Unique ID or ISBN
  • Subject
  • Description
  • Rights

Testing

iPad

Once you have the e-reader files from us you’ll of course want to review them. Ideally it’s best to review the file on the device for which it’s intended, but that’s not always practical. Most of our clients seem to have iPads, so Apple’s lack of a software emulator for it isn’t so much of a hindrance. However If you don’t have an iPad or Nook, you can download a great add-on for Firefox called EPUBReader. Its only drawback is that if we’re designing specifically for iPad, some code directly targeted towards iBooks (such as pop-up footnotes) won’t work. We’ve also found dropcaps to be somewhat problematic in terms of alignment as well.

If you have an iPad or iPhone but have never brought an eBook in, the process is fairly straightforward.

  1. Connect your iPad to your Mac or PC and open iTunes;
  2. Select Open from the File menu and navigate to the file. Click the Open button when you’ve found it;
  3. Sync.

A quick way to load another version of the file is to first delete the old book file off your i-device (by tapping Edit, selecting the file you want to trash and then tapping the Delete button) before you import another on in. That saves you from having to sync twice to first get rid of the old file once you’ve deleted it off iTunes, and then sync again to load the new file back on. iTunes is funny about files that have the same name not updating, even if it’s a newer version of the file, so get rid of the old file first.

Word Wizards file nomenclature strives to overcome this bug/feature by assigning a date-time stamp to each file in the form of monthday-time (e.g., June second at 1:12 pm would look like 0602-0112).

Kindle

If you don’t have a Kindle, fear not. Amazon provides a free previewer app called, well, Kindle Previewer, that you can download. The beauty of this little app is that you can switch between devices to see how your publication will look. You’ll be shocked how different the same file looks on a Kindle as compared to a Kindle Fire (and we’re not talking about just the color).

Validation

If you intend on selling your eBook on either Apple’s or Amazon’s respective online bookstores, then the files will have to go through a separate process, called validation, before they will be accepted into those venues. Please build a day into the schedule to allow us to get both files to validate properly for upload.