Okay, I know I usually do design stuff and talk about that, but in some round about way, creating epubs fits into design. Don’t ask how, I’ll leave that up to you.
At my job I have everything under the son to do, including creating epub files for one reason or another. This can include transcribing messages to converting pdfs to creating new content for different things, including epubs. Just recently my boss told me he wanted some old archived newspapers turned into epubs so we could put them on the website to be a blessing to people. No problem….well, sort of. I hate the process of making epubs because it’s still in it’s infancy and things can easily go wrong or not work how you want to or how they should.
When I first started making epubs I went through program after program that claimed they could effortlessly create epubs. This was half true. Effortlessly? No. Epubs that look the way you made them and the way you want? No. Epubs? Yes.
But through trial and error I found out how to make epubs and exactly what to use. So I just wanted to quickly tell you about the way I have done it in the past and how you too can create epubs for your iPad, iPhone, iPod, computer, or anything else that will read them. Here we go.
Of course you’re going to need software. Thankfully most of it is either free or pretty inexpensive. There’s some programs that are a necessity. One is Adobe’s Digital Editions. It’s free, so you can go ahead and download it. This is basically an epub reader for your computer. This will allow you to test your epub file, but it’s not a perfect tester. Though there are others, including add-ons for Firefox, you’re probably not going to find anything better for a while.
Next, grab a copy of Sigil. This is a nice little program that is basically the epub creator. It’s pretty close to a bare bones text editor that saves your file as an epub. It can even open up html files and edit them. More on why this is important later. Sigil too is free. While you may not necessarily make epubs with Sigil, it’s good to easily go in an edit one once you have it made.
Next thing you need is Calibre. Calibre is a library management program that has a few great functions. You can manage all your epubs, view all of them, and even convert them to other formats. Do you have a pdf you want as an epub? Calibre can do it. However, the results are not always the greatest. Do you have an epub file that you want to read on a Kindle. Calibre can do it, and as far as I’ve found, does a great job. Calibre also has the ability to load epubs onto the iPhone and iPad wireless through the Stanza app. Calibre is also free, so pick it up as well.
You’ll also need to grab you a good text editor. You can always use the default one built in with your OS, but I like Bare Bone’s Software’s TextWrangler. At some point, you will probably have to do some hand coding. If you don’t know how to do that, well, learn. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. In all my times of making epubs, I still have not found a single one that will make epub files perfect. Now you may not need this and can fix all another way, but there’s a good likelihood you’ll need it.
Those are the four biggees. After this, you;ll have to start dishing out some money. I just recently started messing with Apple’s Pages program that comes in the iWorks suite. It’s only available on Mac however, unlike everything previously mentioned. Now Pages just recently came out with an update a few months ago that added epub capabilities through paragraph styles. I tested it out today and found that though it may be easy to use, it doesn’t do too well with graphics.
I tried repeatedly to get a header graphic to flow seamlessly in with the text to no avail. After an hour of research, I gave up the graphic in loo of regular text. Also, another problem is the inability to have a complete graphic as a cover image. You’ll have a graphic, but it won’t take up the whole image/page like you see in the ibooks store in itunes. For that, you’ll have to do some hand-coding, which I’ll get to in a moment.
You can also try out Adobe’s InDesign. CS5 is said to make epubs even better than CS4, however, once again I didn’t see it. They do have some good resources on their site to help you along, as well as some pdfs that show you how to create your own, but mine never turned out like they should have, even when I followed them to the “T.” When I tried making my epubs with InDesign, I found myself using TextWrangler frequently. I had issues with formatting, linking in my TOC, and on cover design placement. Needless to say, I was happy with Adobe’s claims on InDesign’s greatness in making epubs.
Those are the programs that I’ve used in the past that I’ve dealt with enough to comment on. I’ve used others but with such little success or trouble, they don’t need to be commented on. However, there are some other resources you might want to look at.
Once you get your epub made, you’ll need to validate it if you plan on selling it. Threepress Consulting has an online validator, however, the results aren’t always correct. As sometimes it will always give a failing response to certain issues. Of course these issues will never show up on anything or anyone viewing your book.
If you ever have to edit your epub once created, you’ll need to go through the process of unzipping it (all it is, is a zip file), opening the individual files, editing them, and then rezipping it. To re-zip, grab the free ZipCreator. Now if you’re on a PC, you can probably use another zip program, but the first and best that I found on a Mac is Zip Creator. It will let you set up you files within the zip folder in a specific order. Others just allow you to zip. And having the files in a specific order is important when dealing with epubs. And most likely, you’ll have to go through this process, so you might as well be prepared.
Since you have all the tools necessary, you’ll probably need some resources to help you out. If you want to know about hand coding and epub, and who doesn’t?…check out JediSaber. Know, you won’t see Luke Skywalker…at least I don’t think you will, but you’ll find some good information on coding epubs. And if you need some more information on coding you can check out HTML Goodies and Quackit. It’d be nice if you didn’t need to know something about coding, but if you want a nice epub file that looks great, you’ll probably have to learn a little.
Also, if you check out a site like Project Gutenberg, you can tons of free epubs. Why is this important? Well, you can always download one that was made right, deconstruct it, and find out the inner workings of an actual, working epub. Then, you can get yours to match so it too will be working properly.
The last source I can think of at the moment is probably one of the most helpful. It’s MobileRead and it’s an invaluable source of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to epub and mobile reading. Their forums have been helpful on numerous occasions of figuring out how to fix one of many problems. It helps when you talk to people that have either been down the same road you have, or didn’t take it at all because they’re smarter than that.
That’s all that I can think of now. Besides that, it becomes a little of trial and error. Hopefully some of my experiences and the links posted will help you about your way of making your own epubs for your iPhone, iPad, or whatever you want them for.
Let me know if I missed something or share your thoughts and experiences. I really wish I had something kind of like this when I started out. Hopefully this will help someone else along the way.
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