Rapid advancements in technology, and the equally rapid consumer adoption of it, have combined to cause a vacuum in traditional print publishing. The cost efficiency, convenience and accessibility of digital methods of distribution, have seen ebooks increasingly being released as the sole format of publication. Not only has this seen the role of traditional print designers change, but it has also resulted in the emergence of the self-published author.
This article will examine only a few of the many available formats and resources for ebook publication, and provide suggestions on how a self-publisher (or designer new to the field) can produce and launch their ebook in style.
Once your manuscript is complete, your data is complied and your imagery is sourced, taking some time to understand common formats and publication platforms will help you make decisions on the production, design and distribution your ebook.
The EPUB format is a free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing forum. Designed for reflowable content, allowing the viewer to optimise text for any particular display device, it is a format considered best utilised when text is the most important part of a document. The key features of this EPUB are word wrapping and resizable text, as well as the ability to include inline vector and raster images, embedded metadata, DRM, CSS styling and depending on device support, audio and video content.
Unlike native apps which are device specific, EPUB has gained popularity as a vendor-independent XML-based ebook format. Amazon’s Kindle is the only notable compatibility issue, however, programs like Calibre exist to convert EPUB to a format kindle can read.
Similarly, Calibre can convert common document types to EPUB which means that much like the digitisation of type and the increasing accessibility of publishing platforms opened typography to everyone, the ability to export ebook formats from commonly used word processing platforms has opened up access to digital publishing. Although some consideration needs to be given to EPUB standards to ensure better document fidelity between the publishing platform and EPUB export, programs like Microsoft Word (DOCX files) and Mac’s Pages allow for even the novice to self-publish.
For designers, Adobe’s InDesign has been a staple of a traditional print toolbox for many years. InDesign has had ability to save for digital editions for many versions now, but the most recent releases of the program take the its ability to create and export beautiful, multimedia EPUB files to a whole new level.
The liquid layouts tool, for example, allows the document to automatically re-position page items when changing the document size or orientation. This reduces the work required to create alternative page layouts for different screen resolutions and screen orientations. The alternative page layouts tool allows you to create infinite variations of one layout and updates changes across them all.
The downside of EPUB files is that for a self-publisher, or a a designer inexperienced in programming mark-up languages, resolving issues revealed by device testing may not be possible by simply examining the source document. Sometimes, manual adjustment of the exported code in a HTML editor may be necessary. Sigil is both a WYSIWYG and HTML editor, which helps lessen the gap between publishing and programming EPUB platforms, allowing a user to flick between the ebook preview and its raw code and immediately see applied changes.
Much as user experience and interface design became a central consideration in modern web design, so has the expectation of beautiful, print quality layouts in ebooks. Viewers are no longer content to have pertinent information supplied in the most utilitarian format. Engaging, richly interactive ebooks with user-friendly interfaces and beautiful layouts which interplay imagery, text and multi-media blur the line between traditional print and electronic publishing, banishing the idea of an ebook as simply a flowable wall of text.
PDF and iBook
PDF and iBook layouts are recommended when content-based layout is the most important consideration for your ebook.
Currently the most widely used document format word wide, PDF is a format familiar to most users and can be generated from familiar programs. The benefits of creating ebooks in PDF include a high level of layout and style control, as well as the ability to include images, video and links. However, unlike EPUB, PDF files are not easily reflow able which means that they don’t adapt well to all devices. It is difficult, for example, to view a pdf on a smartphone.
Apple’s iBooks Author is a free publishing platform which allows designers to create vibrant and engaging multimedia ebooks. Because its user-interface will feel familiar to users of word processing or desktop publishing programs, and because it comes packaged with a range pre-designed templates, beautiful, coherent layouts can also be created or adapted easily by the novice self-publisher. iBooks uses drag and drop functionality making image and media insertion a breeze, while text, shapes, charts, tables and the included multi-touch widgets can be styled with the same ‘click’ functionality as word processing platforms.
The downside to Apple’s iBooks Author is that although it is based on the EPUB standard, there are some differences in the CSS tags which make it incompatible with the open standard. Although it can also generate PDF and RTF files, its native format .ibook can only be read on Apple’s iOS operating system and devices. Further, Apple’s EULA (End-User Licence Agreement) restricts the sale of books created in iBooks Author and using its .ibook file type to Apple’s iBookstore. eBooks created in iBooks Author but distracted for free, and those not using the .ibooks format, are exempt from this requirement.
Ack. It’s all just too much!
Writing and compiling your book may been a labour of love, and choosing the format in which to publish may be an unavoidable necessity, but if by now the idea of designing your ebook seems like an insurmountable challenge (or you can freely admit to having no style. At all.) then a range of pre-designed templates in various formats can be sourced online. Or, if you prefer, you can search out any number of online publishers who can help you create your ebook in only a few steps.
Sites like Lulu and Booktango can help you with both design and distribution of your eBook in EPUB format, making it compatible across a wide range of devices. Whilst it is free to publish on both Lulu and Booktango, they also offer a range of paid services to help you achieve your vision for your ebook. From editing and design, all the way through to publicity and promotion, online publishers can offer direction and information to give you the confidence you need to make decisions for your ebook.
For those wanting to dabble in the actual design of their ebook but are not confident in starting from scratch, Graphic River hosts a growing repository of epublishing templates for PDF and ibook formats.
Tablet 30 pages Minimal Magazine created in InDesign and making use of the program’s liquid layout feature which allows you to convert content for multiple device sizes. The template comes packed full of great layouts and design elements which will help you create a magazine-style publication for iPad or Android.
MiBook is a clean, professional e-publishing template for Apple’s iBooks Author. MiBook’s minimalist design makes it adaptable to any subject matter, and easy to style. Multi-touch widgets encourage viewer activity thereby increasing viewer engagement. MiBook also showcases your work beautifully using large image galleries which are simple to edit with drag and drop functionality.
DesignMag iPad Magazine is a beautifully and practically designed InDesign template consisting of 20 page layouts which are easily customisable to almost any subject. DesignMag also uses InDesign’s liquid layout tool, so designing for different orientations is easy.
Distributing your ebook
Whether you decide to go with an online publisher, or have designed and created your ebook yourself, at some stage you will need to consider the marketing and distribution channels available to you. If you’ve used an online publisher, you probably already have a good head start on both, but if you’re looking to maximise sales, you need to maximise your exposure. It’s no good having a wonderfully written, beautifully designed ebook if no one knows about it or you have no way of delivering and collecting payment for it. By the same, if you want to distribute your publication for free, you probably don’t want to be investing a whole lot of time and resources into it’s promotion and distribution.
Effective use of social media can open a world of free promotional opportunities. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are free and allow you, the author, to interact directly with those who will be most interested in your work. Further, any reviews and recommendations they make will help your ebook filter to new audiences.
A personal blog can provide opportunities for more in depth interaction and discussion with your audience and help form relationships with them for the longer-term. There are a number of DIY blog-creation sites with established communities which allow you to create your own blog, for free, within minutes. WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr are a few of the more popular networks. Each has a simple to navigate user-interface and WYSIWYG editor, so updating your blog is not too dissimilar to using word processing software.
There are also a number of free sites who will promote your ebook for you. Each of the websites listed have their own processes for the submission and selection of the ebooks they promote, so you’re sure to find one that’s right for you.
If you believe in spending money to make money, or want the prestige of a dedicated web-presence to showcase your book, you can go to the trouble and expense of hiring a web designer-developer, or you can consider a quality, pre-made website template.
Booker is a responsive HTML5 website template built for selling ibooks. Designed as a single landing page dedicated to promoting and selling your ebook in style, it is a fully responsive theme and Retina ready. Booker is also fully documented to help you get started with comment support available to answer any specific questions you may have about its usage.
If you decide on a dedicated website as part of the publicity platforms for your ebook, you will need a method of ensuring the payment-download cycle is a smooth process. Fetch and Quixly are digital delivery services which make it easy to manage the download and payment side of your website. Each service integrates seamlessly and securely with popular payment systems, like Paypal, and instantly delivers your ebook to your customers.
It is likely that the benefits of digital publication will see ebooks continue to proliferate, and the self-published, self-promoting author became more recognised as a result. Whilst the process of digital self-publishing may seem daunting at first, the tools and platforms exist so that with some careful planning and research, it doesn’t need to be an ordeal.