By Colleen Cunningham, eBook Developer, F+W Media
Here at Digital Book World we published an article (InDesign to Ebook: Resources), which summed up useful resources and tools for producing ebooks. After getting a great response from the community, we decided to make a dedicated e-production resources page that we’ll keep updated. Please email suggestions to Colleen Cunningham.scr
If you are new to ebook production, start with The Basics section for a short introduction. Or do you want to jump right in and get started? We’ve divided the rest of this page into three sections:
- Resources — the best learning materials
- Tools — popular software in ebook production
- Quality Assurance — advice for ebook developers and those who outsource their digital production
Ebooks in the EPUB and Kindle format basically consist of sets of downloadable, zipped-up websites that use CSS and HTML to format the content. This page by eBook Architects does a good job of explaining the different ebook formats.
Many print designers are asking, “How much code do I really need to learn?” For now, book designers need to know at least enough to make your EPUB file validate (this ensures that the markup is working correctly) so that their ebook titles can be sold on-line through the most popular ebookstores. And although InDesign does a good job of automating tedious markup during export, there is still a lot to do manually in the EPUB file, including cleaning up extraneous formatting and improving the digital markup and design of the ebook, before the ebook is ready to be sold in a competitive market. Fortunately, there is a lot of supplemental software from which to choose from to help you through the process of converting to the EPUB and for the Kindle. Read on to learn more.
Around the Web
Book Industry Study Group
The BISG promotes book industry standards and best practices. Their EPUB3 support grid is particulary useful for navigating the EPUB2 to EPUB3 transition.
This Adobe export offers InDesign-to-EPUB advice on her blog.
Create rich-layout publications in EPUB3 with HTML5, CSS3, and MathML
In this article by Liza Daly, learn to create rich-layout pages using some new features in EPUB3.
Electric Book Works
The EBW Knowledge Base has a useful overview of the digital workflow.
EPUB3 Sample Documents
Download EPUB 3 samples from this Google Project Hosting page.
International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)
The IDPF is the organization responsible for developing and maintaining the EPUB open standard. Note that EPUB2 is the version currently accepted by most ebook retailers as of early 2013 with the exception of Apple/iBooks, which accepts the newest version, EPUB3.
This site hosts ebooks to download, reviews of software programs used to read and create EPUB files, and a tutorial on how to create EPUB files.
jQuery User Interface
Search for ebook production video courses by Anne-Marie Concepción, Mike Rankin, and other experts.
Mozilla Developer Network
Get caught up to speed on the building blocks of EPUB and Kindle files on this site, hosted by an open community of developers. Good places to start for beginners are the pages on HTML and CSS. When you understand the basics, visit the HTML5 page to see what EPUB3 supports. Remember: not all markup is supported on all ereading devices. (w3schools.com is not recommended).
eBook Typography by Chris Jennings
EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating Ebooks for the Apple iPad and Other Ereaders by Elizabeth Castro, plus companion guides
Popular project-based book and companion guides teach you how to make an EPUB file from Microsoft Word or InDesign; the books also explain how to edit CSS and XHTML. This site also has sample files for download. The companion blog documents updates.
HTML5 & CSS3 Visual QuickStart Guide (7th Edition) by Elizabeth Castro and Bruce Hyslop
This book is helpful for learning about markup when you’re ready to crack an EPUB open.
Kindle Formatting by Joshua Tallent
A top resource for authors, publishers, and anyone else interested in publishing content on the Kindle. This book covers the older Kindle format called Mobi7, which is still used by the older-generation Kindles.
Digital Book World
Real-world, practical news, and information about digital publishing. You’re here already!
MobileRead Wiki and E-Production Wiki
MobileRead Wiki is a community forum about creating digital books and the devices they are read on. In particular, the E-Production Wiki offers tested, updated information. The CSS template is frequently updated and can be customized for your own digital workflow.
Every Wednesday at 11:00 am EST, join us for the #eprdctn chat. Using the #eprdctn hashtag for tweets about e-production at any time will direct those tweets to a knowledgeable and active community ready to answer questions and discuss the latest developments in digital publishing.
Books in Browsers Conference
Annual|Autumn|San Fransisco Forward-thinking discussions and presentations.
Digital Book World Conference
Annual|January|NYC Digital publishing workshops and seminars from industry experts.
PEPCON: The Print + ePublishing Conference
Annual|Spring|Variable Answers on publishing for ebooks, print, iPad/tablets, and interactive documents. In 2013 the conference will be held in Austin, Texas. Colleen Cunningham will be conducting a pre-conference workshop called EPUB Bootcamp: What You Need to Know at this year’s conference year on April 28. Use the code DBW to get $50 off!
Ebook Retailer Specs
The three “flavors” of ebook formatting come down to the big three ebook retailers, in order of ebook formatting “robustness” (least to most): Amazon (Kindle = Mobi7 or KF8), Barnes & Noble (Nook = ADE), and Apple (iBooks = WebKit). Ebook retailers that offer their own specs are as follows:
- Amazon (click on “Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines”)
- Barnes & Noble (click on “EPUB Formatting”)
- Unfortunately, Apple only allows access to their iBooks specs if you apply to iTunesConnect or work with an iBookstore aggregator who will distribute your ebooks for you
For a comprehensive chart of ereaders and apps, visit the MobileRead Wiki.
InDesign is transformed into a more efficient EPUB-exporting machine when scripts are created and run to check if the file has been prepped correctly prior to export, especially when the same InDesign file is intended for both print and EPUB export. These tasks include transforming forced caps to real caps and checking for unsupported characters.
Scripts already built and available for use can be found here:
- InDesign Scripts from EPUB Secrets
- InDesign Scripts for Adobe DPS by Keith Gilbert
- InDesign Scripts for Indexing by Olav Martin Kvern
- InDesign Scripts by Naomi Kennedy
- InDesign Scripts by Peter Kahrel
If you are comfortable with the idea of building an InDesign script for your own workflow, check out:
- InDesign Developer Documentation: InDesign Scripting
- Adobe Forums: InDesign Scripting
- ScriptUI Guide
- Adobe InDesign CS6 Object Model
Aptara provides integrated digital publishing services and content technology solutions, including ebook creation and content conversion. This PDF by Jean Kaplansky explains the content conversion process.
Digital Book World’s eBook Design and Development listings
This list of ebook companies consists of fellow Digital Book World members, registered users, and credible industry partners.
This Texas-based conversion house is committed to making the eBook creation and publication process easy and affordable and offers ebook conversion, formatting advice, customized ebook process development, and consulting.
A podcast on every aspect of digital book production, reading devices, and digital publishing news.
The Kindle Chronicles
A podcast about digital book production in general and Kindle formatting in particular.
Special Topic: Regular Expressions
Regular expressions is a powerful way to find and change large amounts of markup and is useful in ebook development.
Andy’s World of Regex
This site offers an introduction to this topic as well as training.
O’Reilly Media Books
Learn regular expressions with simple, interactive examples.
An online regex string tester.
An online adventure game utilizing regular expressions.
A visualizer for regular expressions strings.
Mozilla Developer Network
Online documentation on regex operators.
Send your workshop news to Colleen Cunningham.
After familiarizing yourself with the basics of a print-to-digital workflow, the next step is to figure out which tools fit best with your particular content and current skill set.
There are 7 common steps in every EPUB and Kindle project:
- Creating the files
- Unzipping the EPUB (some software does allow for editing without unzipping)
- Editing the ebook
- Zipping the EPUB
- Validating the markup
- Converting the EPUB file to the Kindle format (if necessary)
- Testing to ensure your ebook is valid and the formatting works on targeted ereaders
The seventh step is important in both in-house and outsourced digital workflows and is covered in the last section of this article.
(Note: $ = not freeware)
- Pro: The most popular print layout software; exports to EPUB format; has exporting-to-EPUB training videos.
- Con: CSS and html markup often needs adjustment to work optimally on all ereading devices and apps.
Microsoft Word ($)
- Pro: The most popular word processing software; exports to HTML.
- Con: Not commonly used by book publishers to create print books; only saves in HTML so files must be edited extensively for the EPUB format with scripting.
- Note: Apache OpenOffice is a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Word that has ePub generator extension, which makes it a good alternative for authors on a budget.
- Pro: Word processing software for iWork on the Mac; exports to EPUB; app available on the iPad
- Con: Not commonly used by book publishers to create print books; Mac only.
Case Study: How to Produce an eBook with Pages by Patrick
- Pro: Create ebooks, typeset PDFs for print-on-demand and other uses, and webbooks; choose from professionally designed book themes; built on top of WordPress and enables content import from a WordPress blog; the WYSIWYG interface makes it a good option for authors
- Con: Inconsistent markup makes it a starting point for those who want to tweak the design
Case Study: Using Pressbooks to Make Ebooks by Sabrina Ricci
Creating: Additional Formats
Case Study: Comparing Adobe Digital Publishing Suite and iBooks Author by Tina Henderson
The fixed layout format mimics the look of fixed-layout, like a PDF. It is most appropriate for image-heavy ebooks because text is fixed and not flowable. Because the most popular ebook vendors like Apple and Amazon do not sell PDFs as ebooks, fixed layout is the next best option. Liz Castro offers miniguides on creating this format. The BISG offers a Field Guide to Fixed Layout. And CircularFlo is software that converts InDesign files to the fixed layout format. See individual ebook retailers for their required specs.
Available for free on the Mac App Store, this e-book authoring application creates an ebook in the EPUB format in which you can combine fixed layout and flowable text. But be aware that the resulting ebook can then only be sold in the iBookstore. Otherwise, it can be distributed for free but still can only be read in iBooks. The app offers templates and many aspects of a document may be edited in WYSIWYG fashion.
Case Study: Using iBooks Author and other posts by John Seely
Unzipping and zipping
- Pro: Free script that automates the EPUB zipping and unzipping process.
- Con: Mac only.
Terminal (Use Liz Castro’s instructions in her book)
- Pro: A utility included with Mac OS; does not introduce coding glitches.
- Con: Entering instructions through the command line can seem difficult at first; Mac only.
- Pro: A utility included with the Windows operating system.
- Con: Windows only.
BBEdit 10 ($)
- Platform: Mac only
- Price: $50
- Trial period: 30 days
- Pro: A text editor that can be used to edit CSS and HTML in EPUB files; the “Preview in BBEdit” command uses WebKit (the same engine that powers Safari, Google Chrome, and other popular web browsers) to preview your code; thorough manual for download at http://www.barebones.com/support/bbedit/manual.html
- Additional info: http://ink.indiamos.com/2012/04/11/degristling-the-sausage/ and http://www.libertypages.com/clarktech/?p=3242
Coda 2 ($)
- Platform: Mac only
- Price: $75
- Trial period: 2 weeks
- Pro: A website editor for editing CSS and HTML in EPUB files; features a WebKit-based preview and a direct connection to Terminal; features a WYSIWYG previewer
- Additional info: http://www.amberweinberg.com/thoughts-on-using-code-for-development/ and http://www.panic.com/blog/2012/07/top-20-secrets-of-coda-2/
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Price: from $50/month with Adobe Cloud
- Trial period: Adobe Cloud has a 30-day trial period
- Pro: A website editor for editing CSS and HTML in EPUB files; sometimes packaged along with InDesign if a design suite was purchased
- Con: WYSIWYG editor can introduce coding errors so use in code view only
- More info: http://www.pagetoscreen.net/journal/item/using_dreamweaver_to_edit_ebooks
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Price: from $349
- Trial: 30 days
- Pro: An XML editor makes it possible to edit EPUB files without unzipping them; oXygen Author (http://www.oxygenxml.com/xml_author/buy_oxygen_xml_author.html) is a version specially designed for authors
- Con: More suitable for those already familiar with XML
- More info: http://www.oxygenxml.com/xml_editor/EPUB.html
- Platform: Mac, PC
- Price: Free
- Pro: An open source WYSIWYG EPUB editor; allows for the editing of EPUB files without unzipping; commonly used in an EPUB workflow for easily renaming xhtml files within the EPUB
- Con: The WYSIWYG editor can move and change CSS, which can bloat the EPUB and make CSS editing difficult
- More info: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/wiki/FAQ
- Platform: Mac (included with the OS)
- Price: Free
- Trial: Not necessary, included with the OS
- Pro: A popular text editor, especially useful
for making quick edits
- Con: All coding must be done by hand, but this
generally creates a very clean file
- More info: https://macnancy.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/textedit-tips
- Platform: PC
- Price $16.50
- Trial: Yes
- Pro: A popular text editor, especially useful for making quick edits
- Con: All coding must be done by hand, but this generally creates a very clean file
- More info: http://johnbokma.com/textpad
WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get.” While this can make editing an easier process because you can visualize the changes you’re making right away, WYSIWYG editors tend to introduce coding changes that may not always validate. Use with caution.
Calibre is a popular ebook editor, but it wreaks havoc with CSS and therefore makes markup editing difficult and is not recommended for EPUB editing.
epubcheck for EPUB
- A command-line tool that you download and install onto your computer in order to validate EPUB files for every ebook retailer. Alternatively, you can upload your EPUB file at the IDPF’s online validator.
- Here are epubcheck validation error explainations.
FlightCrew for EPUB
- A GUI tool that you can drag and drop your epub onto for validation.
- Here are EPUBcheck validation error explainations.
Kindle Previewer for the Kindle format
- Push EPUBs through Kindle Previewer to check for Kindle validation errors.
- Download the Kindle Publishing Guidelines (check for updates often) for specific instructions on Amazon’s preferred format and coding for covers.
Conversion: Kindle Format
Information on creating and uploading ebooks for the Kindle. Scroll to the bottom for KindleGen, Kindle Plugin for InDesign, the Kindle Previewer, and Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Guidelines.
Command-line tool used to build ebooks that can be sold through Amazon’s Kindle platform, using .azw and Mobi7/KF8 files, which are Amazon’s proprietary ebook file formats. Kindle Previewer is powered by KindleGen and converts EPUB files to the Kindle format automatically.
This comprehensive chart documents which KF8 elements work on which Kindle devices. Below the chart are definitions of each of the elements.
Testing for QA is the final step in the EPUB workflow, whether the workflow is in-house or outsourced. This is where the project can get complicated because now the single EPUB file may have to be modified depending on the specs of the specific ereader devices, ereader software, and apps on which you choose to distribute your ebook. You can sell an ebook on Amazon, which can then be read on the Kindle (e-ink device) or on the iPad or iPhone (iPad Kindle app on a color screen). Or you can sell an ebook through Barnes & Noble which can then be read on a Nook Simple Touch (e-ink device) or on the iPad or iPhone (Nook app on a color screen) or Nook desktop app on a Mac or PC computer screen.
A list of common ebook quality assurance issues can be found at Amazon but the list is thorough and universal enough that it can be applied to every vendor.
If creating one EPUB, for now the best tactic is to keep the file simple and test it out on a few popular ereader devices, ereader software, and apps (at least the ones that you are plan to sell your ebooks on).
Rufus Deuchler has a blog post about the EPUB file he created to test the same CSS across different ereaders. If you have an ereader, feel free to download and sideload the CSS.EPUB file onto your ereader to see how the CSS renders. You can also use the AppleScript unzip script to open it and see how he built his CSS. Alternately, you can view his screenshots that show how the file renders across different ereaders.
Hack your Cover by David Lillo is a Photoshop PSD template that allows you to preview how your cover will look on an e-ink Kindle, iPad, iPhone, an Amazon Kindle eBook page, and an Amazon book detail page. And check out Natasha Fondren’s comprehensive guide to ebook cover specs.
Budget, time/deadlines, and the needs of the content are the context within which most QA processes occur. Most ebook developers have their own personalized mix of ereader devices and apps that they QA on, but the minimum would be the following desktop ereader apps (Note: This is freeware but no real substitute for the ereading devices themselves):
- Apple: There is no desktop version of iBooks but you can do QA on individual xhtml files by opening them in Safari for Mac (this won’t work for some EPUB3 specs)
- QA for EPUB3: Readium or Azardi
- Amazon: Kindle Previewer, Kindle for PC or Mac
- B&N, Sony, Google: Adobe Digital Editions, Nook for PC or Mac (rendering is poorer on the Nook apps than on Nook devices)
- Kobo: Kobo for PC or Mac
Last updated March 2013