A Short Handbook for the Open Access Ebook Designer

(Originally posted on Blogger site.)

(3/12/13 – Updated with some revisions suggested by Derik at MadInkBeard. Much obliged, sir!)
(3/18/13 – Updated with a new link to cover design tips.)

I’ve recently written about my plans to create and make available my own ebook.

When I initially devised this idea, I had no idea how to actually make an ebook. This seemed a pretty sizable impediment to my schemes, so I immediately started researching how to create ebooks. I found little that really walked me through the entire process from start to finish. Or, rather, very little that contained all of this information in one, convenient location. Most sites had info that was general, or, alternately, that dealt with very specific aspects of ebook design in detail. There may well be a site out there that compiles a lot of information in a useful outline; if there is, I didn’t come across it.

To wit, I decided to create that…lacking thing. Yes. Here I have put together an outline of steps for making your ebook, with some useful links that discuss these different steps in some detail. I hope you find this useful.

General Arrangement
Consider the “big picture,” as they say.

Useful Tools
Get yourself these programs, because you’ll need them. They are all free to download.

  • Sigil – software for creating and coding EPUB files.
  • Gimp – image manipulation software, like photoshop.
  • Blue Griffon – HTML-editing software. I like this client in particular, though any HTML/XML editor will do.
  • Calibre – an ebook management software. Very useful for overall management, metadata editing, and conversion to different formats (PDF, MOBI, etc.)
  • Also useful: Sigil Manuals/Documentation – online manuals for the Sigil software. Look this over, as Sigil is the main tool you’ll be using for constructing the ebook.

It’s important to mention that I use a Mac, though I’m fairly certain that all of these clients are available for both Windows and iOS.

Construct “Segments”
If you’re arranging a novel, these might be chapters; if your arranging a collection, these might be individual stories. If you’re modeling your ebook on a print book, consider those “bits” into which your brain divides the books that you read. Then build each of those segments as an HTML file in Sigil. I highly recommend that, when you put the text into these files, that you remove any and all formatting and any blank spacing between paragraphs, sections, etc. Ebook readers will not care about these.

Ebook Style/CSS
You’ll need to create a CSS file to create a uniform “look” across the parts of your ebook. These links might help.

Finishing Touches
Some other details that will complete your ebook.

Test Flight
EPUB Validator – an online tool to check the integrity of your EPUB file. It will list any errors that it finds; you can use an HTML tool like Blue Griffon to find the erroneous line and correct it.

In Closing
I hope some of this proves useful to you in your endeavor to build an ebook from scratch. What’s important to realize is that all of the tips and steps I’ve outlined above are really just one approach to making an ebook. It’s the one that worked for me and that I used, but I don’t feel this is a penultimate method, by any stretch. The ebook that I made is based largely on the structure and design of a traditional print book. However, ebooks aren’t print books, so they really don’t need to look and behave like them. I, fact, I encourage the reader of this guide to consider some of the tools that I provide, and then completely disregard what I’ve said and make something big and nonlinear and messy that stomps all over readers’ preconceptions of what an ebook is.

Now go in peace, to love and serve the Word.


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  1. DerikB says:

    Those 2 css charts are super out of date. Anything that references Netscape but not Chrome is probably not good to pay attention to.

    The Mozilla Developers Network (MDN) is probably the best source for CSS reference online: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/CSS

  2. DerikB says:

    P.S. You might also want to take a gander at Calibre: http://calibre-ebook.com/

  3. Eric Jeitner says:

    Ah! Thanks very much, Derik! A good point, re browsers in the chart. I suspect the coding I was doing was simple enough that I didn’t notice how out-of-date the sources were. I’ll update the post to reflect and incorporate your suggestions.

    I love Calibre! I can’t believe I forgot to include it in all that. It’s handling of metadata and format-conversion is definitely useful.

    Thanks again!

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