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What does it take to produce a beautiful ebook?

For the purposes of this article, consider the following: epub refers to any format of epublishing – whether it be mobi for Kindle, epub for iPad, or epub for any other device. Incidentally: a mobi file is built on the same foundation of epub file – just a few minor tweaks are required by the Kindle.

While there are very few rules in print layout (other than margins and printers requirements), there are many rules in epub layout. Epub is built on HTML standards because all eReaders are essentially stripped down web browsers programmed to display html pages. Thus, some knowledge of html is very helpful to get predictable results.

There’s generally a 12 step process involved in doing an ebook conversion, no matter what techniques or tools you use, and at a fundamental level, they all involve the following steps.

Depending on the book and type of file provided, some of these steps may be eliminated, thus the time it takes (& thus the price to do the work) to do a proper ebook conversion will always vary if there’s a proof stage involved. I mention this because the high volume, low cost conversion shops won’t give the author a digital proof – you will be stuck with whatever they produce for you. An attention to detail (& understanding of the language of the book you are converting) is paramount.

Here’s the process we go through when we receive a new book file from an author to convert it to a ready-to-publish digital file format:

1. Strip out any headers/footers/endnotes/footnotes
2. Extract all the raw text from the file (usually a pdf or word doc)
3. Reformat all the content using html to mirror the styles in print (ie. bold, italic, font size, underlines, titles, etc..)
4. Recreate bulleted lists & numbered lists (to be html compatible)
5. Reinsert & hyperlink all endnotes/footnotes
6. Recreate tables or clip them as images from a PDF version
7. Create a metadata file that provides eReaders with information about the book, publisher, & author
8. Format the cover (to fit the full screen of an eReader)
9. Clip & reinsert images or forms (sometimes images will have to be reformatted)
10. Create a hyperlinked table of contents to each chapter and accessible in the navigation function of the eReader
11. Convert html to the epub & mobi formats
12. Test on each device and make any necessary corrections and deliver a ready-to-publish file to the author.

After the file is delivered, we provide step-by-step tutorials to help the author/publisher upload their books to each of the major marketplaces.

There are variety of tools that can be used to work through the process, and those of us who do this work will favor tools we are comfortable with.

Having an understanding of how html works will help you understand why something looks the way it does on an eReader. Just as a webpage will look different on different browsers, an ebook file (remember, it’s essentially a webpage) will look different on different eReaders. The best thing we can do is stick with the basic rules of html that are compatible with all ebook readers.

Many authors hire us after they’ve already spent many frustrating hours trying to get their book looking they way they intended it to. And the vast majority of our business is through referrals, which is why we make sure every author is pleased with the results we produce for them.

Just like anything else, the final result will reflect the experience of the person doing to work. Because your ebook will be a permanent edition of your book that will never go out of print (and outlive all of us), you owe it to your future readers to have it done right. When I think about the lifetime royalties that’ll be earned from an authors ebook, spending a little extra to have it done right seems like a smart investment.

If you do want to do this work yourself, you should at least consider using our template. It has been refined through the process of literally hundreds of conversions and testing with each device. I guarantee you’ll get much better results than you would without it. One of the most recent examples of someone who used our template to create a truly beautiful ebook is Will Craig, who recently published Date with Destiny: Living the Hero’s Journey on Kindle.

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