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From Karen Saunders

Your Branding, Marketing & Self-Publishing Coach

Transform a Book into an ebook: What to Watch Out For

Helena Mariposa

Hi readers, this article is written by Helena Mariposa who is a member of my production team. She offers some nice insights into converting manuscripts and book layouts into ebook formats. Many of my authors have asked me to transform their books into a ebooks now due to the popularity of the Kindle, ipad and Nook. Helena is my go-to gal for this service. Here is her advice:

Authors and self-publishers are proud of the work they have done to make their books read and look as well as they do. Now they have heard there is another way to make their book readily accessible to more readers. The question becomes, how do they get it into ebook form?

Beware of Automated Software

The first thing they may discover is that software is available that will convert their book. But what most people learn, as they investigate this option, is that automated software mangles the formatting, so it is not a viable option.

Formatting Issues

Next they approach an ebook converter/developer and agree to send their manuscript for an estimate. They immediately might hear that certain formatting in their book is too costly. “Go for a simpler design” is the advice they may get. In some cases, the best they might hope for is that their manuscript is formatted consistently without “too many” errors. This is disappointing, to say the least. Let’s look at why this is the case.

First, keep in mind this is a relatively new industry, which means guidelines and regulations are in flux. International Digital Publishing Forum is an organization attempting to establish standards for EPUB files. IDPF is responsible for EPUB—the open standard digital publication format. They update their standards regularly, as they are doing again this year. Thus a conversion service must be careful to stay current.

A Variety of Reader Devices and Different Formats

There are a variety of issues involved in converting a book. One of the decisions authors need to make is regarding which platforms they want their ebooks to be made available on: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, iPad, Adobe Digital Editions (the software libraries use), and so on. Each of these requires different formatting. Obviously, authors would like their book to be available on all of them. It usually means an added expense because it involves additional work to make their manuscript look as good as possible on each device.

The next aspect to consider is the design issues involved. Every little flourish or formatting item must be coded, such as bullet points, numbered lists, sections, chapter headings, poems, quotes, letters, endnotes, bibliographies, hyperlinks, email addresses, a linked table of contents—well, you get the idea. If there are photographs, they must be sized for each device. This takes time.

Many people assume when they send their manuscript to be converted, the developer will be able to use the formatting that already exists. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Whether you send your manuscript as a Word document, a PDF, or an Open Office document, much of the formatting is stripped in the process of converting it to the XHTML language. Once the manuscript is converted, it is the developer’s job to make certain the remaining code is error free.

Coding and Testing on the Devices

Then it is time to begin the arduous task of shaping and coding. Be aware that every time a stage of conversion is completed, the manuscript needs to be uploaded to a device to see how it looks. Yes, there is software for the PC and Mac that is supposed to emulate the various ereaders. Unfortunately, they do not. The only way to check the appearance of a file is by seeing it on the appropriate device. This takes time.

Once formatting is completed to the developer’s satisfaction, there is the issue of compiling the files so that they function properly in ereaders. A task that must be performed, that many authors are unaware of, is the creation of a navigation file. This file tells a device how to navigate from one section to another from any location within the ebook.

ePub Validation

A final step is EPUB validation. Software is available on the web for this purpose. The standard is EpubCheck. The file is uploaded to the validator to check that certain standards are met. This is an evolving requirement for EPUB publishing.

As you can see, a lot is involved in the creation of an e-book you can be proud of and that your readers will enjoy. For me as an ebook developer, it is a question of whether or not one approaches the process as an “art” or a “job.”


About the author:

After a career in mathematics, Helena Mariposa decided to follow her passion for books. She has been writing and proofreading ever since. Her interest in ebooks started after receiving a Kindle. In addition to running an ebook conversion service, Mariposa E-book Transformation, she continues to write and proofread professionally. Visit her website for information about her work. She would be glad to talk with you, one book lover to another: