So you want to be an epublisher

You scream, I scream, we all scream for epubs. As with all internet bounty, it’s even more exciting to produce than to consume. So after you’ve glutted yourself on all those free Jane Austen novels and children’s books, and gone into hock re-creating your library on iPad, why not give something back by doing a little writing yourself?

What to write about, how to ensure quality, and how to identify and market to an audience are beyond the scope of this little post, but we can point to some dandy resources that tell how to create and test your epub. So let’s go!

Our first two resources come from Adobe and tell how to set up an Adobe InDesign file to produce a proper epub. There are other ways of creating an epub—for instance, you can author it in valid HTML, zip it up, and convert to epub using the BookGlutton API. For many readers of this site, that’s all you need to know.

But if you are a graphic designer or book designer, or if epub is only one format you are publishing to (i.e. if you are publishing traditionally printed books that double as epubs), then the next two resources are exactly what you need:

  1. Exporting epub from InDesign (PDF) – wonderfully compact and helpful
  2. Producing ePub Documents from InDesign – Digital Editions – a bit dry but useful; best viewed via the Readability bookmarklet from our friends at Arc90

Once you have your pub, you want to know that it is valid. Any of the following services will help there:

If the tests identify errors, you’ll need to go back into InDesign, fiddle with settings, re-export, and re-test. Once your epub validates, it’s time to go to market: How to sell your eBook via Amazon and the iBookstore. Good luck, and enjoy!

19 thoughts on “So you want to be an epublisher

  1. Thank you for these resources – very helpful. Designing for print vs designing for screen readers is a whole other ball of wax, but this is a great start.

  2. Uhm, process is a bit more complex and sure HTML is not a valid solution. For content is possible use xhtml 1.1 or DTBook schema, and for design a bit of CSS, with many many problems.
    A useful tool for editing is the PDFXML Inspector from Adobe, that permit a bit of editing on source files without have to work again in Indesign or other authoring tools. But, again, “browser” are the most big problem, because are not standard compliant (already heard eh :).
    Liz Castro is working well on this problem, documenting lack of standard support:

  3. Designing for print vs designing for screen readers is a whole other ball of wax, but this is a great start.

    True indeed, Lydia, and any resources you (or anyone) can share on that topic will be appreciated.

  4. Jeffrey,
    Nice post, and most timely. I really need to dig into the ePub business, have some clients who are interested in releasing books on the new range of reader devices.
    Is it just me, or have the ‘Big Two’ names in DTP print publishing been somewhat slow off the mark in producing authoring tools for this yet?


  5. How do design oriented books fair in ePub and other format (Kindle .mobi, etc.)? I have a design resource book (font combinations) book nearing completion, and the format requires a fixed layout. This is no problem for a PDF, but since I haven’t crossed the ePub bridge yet, I’m wondering if anyone else has crossed it yet in regards to fixed layouts.

    Can anyone point to a design book that is available on Kindle (or other platforms) AND print, so the two can be compared?

  6. Great Article, I only have one point of contention. I recommend always creating books in the ePub format and not PDF. The ePub works better with eReader in that they allow the font to be resized and the PDF files don’t. This can make reading PDF from an eReader difficult or all together impossible. Furthermore PDF files do not convert to other formats very well, although there are applications that try to do it, I have yet to convert a PDF to ePub satisfactorily. Besides why would I want to pay for an eBook and then have to buy an application to convert it.

  7. Douglas,
    Although I am not able to get to many ebooks that are design instruction oriented for my Nook (which is the main reason I got it so I will be glad when there are some) I do know that Amazon has a pretty large design and instruction oriented library available for the Kindle. I haven’t seen how functional they are but you could look there as a starting point to finding answers to your questions.

  8. Here is Liz Castro’s take:

    Oh Apple, what are you doing? So misguided. You add DRM to all your ebooks. And now, you have crippled iBooks 1.1 so that it won’t recognize fonts applied with perfectly standard CSS to any body, p, div, or span element.

    Your guidelines state that ebook designers should not choose fonts, stating that it “creates a bad user experience”. You are wrong. Apple designers choose fonts for everything Apple does. Because fonts matter. Indeed, you have chosen the fonts for iBooks and for the iPad. And now you have chosen to keep ebook designers from choosing the body font for their ebooks. It is a very shortsighted decision.

    The ePub specification requires that conforming ereaders, like yours purports to be, support font-family, among other CSS 2.0 properties. Indeed, you do support font-family for most inline elements, like b, em, code, and even some block level elements like dl and li. Why then not the biggies: p, div, and span?

    Your desire for control will ultimately break these standards or it will break iBooks. It will break standards as it incites designers to use ugly hacks to overcome iBooks’ broken support for standards. It will break iBooks as people design beautiful standards-compliant ebooks that look great in other readers that support standards.

    Or should we just go back to Internet Explorer 5?

    More at:

    Apple Kills Fonts in iBooks, Strikes Blow to Standards

    Apple Damaging ePub Standard With Pseudo-Support

  9. Your guidelines state that ebook designers should not choose fonts, stating that it “creates a bad user experience”.

    They really say that? 500 years of publishing practice out the window, just like that?
    To paraphrase Henry Ford, “They can have any font they want, as long as it’s Palatino.”
    The runaway success of the iPad has gone to somebody’s head.

  10. Jeffrey and Jerry:

    What I meant was, can anyone recommend a book where the design of each page translates into an ePub?

    Your design book is no doubt fantastic, but it is text oriented, not design oriented. By design oriented, I mean, the layout of each page, and not just content, is translated into ePub.

    Does that make more sense?

    Since you can’t preview what a Kindle book is going to look like in the reader, I’m asking for a reference.

    For instance, if each page was an image, or PDF, or simply vector art, how would that translate into ePub? Or would it?

  11. Douglas: The ePub format is much like HTML. Just like HTML, it is text that can be styled, put into columns, accompanied by illustrations, and so on. Based on what you’re describing, it sounds like PDF would be a more sensible format for your design book.

  12. The internet is ensuring that the most popular writers are those with the best command of the language and the most creativity, what an amazing tool it is – and who says language standards are declining!

Comments are closed.