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12 April 2012

Create Your Own E-books

Are you a would-be author? How about creating your own e-books?

In a six page article I consider some key questions to answer, investigate online e-book creation services, talk about Amazon's Kindle tools, discuss editing an e-book with Sigil, and hint at the possibilities of app-books with Apple's new iBook Author.

It's all in the mid-April Micro Mart magazine, issue 1204.

Here are two extracts from the article:

LuLu is an old hand at the DIY book publication game and has generated considerable respect, many complementary reviews and a loyal following. The range of services on offer, flexible options and attractive deals for authors means LuLu is a useful benchmark when comparing competitive e-book publishing services. A big plus is the financial deal: 90% for the author and 10% for LuLu - pretty much the maximum you're likely to receive anywhere.

To get started the site presents a straightforward six-step process. It leads you through uploading the book content, creating a cover, adding a book description and setting the sale price. At each step there's plenty of helpful information about the options available and the implications of certain choices, such as using a LuLu owned ISBN rather than your own to reduce costs. The last stage of the process provides details of their optional promotional services aimed at raising your sales figures.

LuLu's e-book creation process is focussed around handling textual content and images. Input formats include the various Microsoft Word document types plus the universal RTF format. And there's plenty of advice on offer, such as discouraging the use of tables, charts, scientific equations as many e-reader will not be displayed them correctly.

So, what is an EPUB file? In essence it's just a zipped container which holds a collection of HTML, CSS and XML files. Any unzip tool will be able to extract the file contents, even though it has an '.epub' file extension rather than the more usual '.zip' one.

So, after the EPUB file is unzipped what do we see? Taking the 2.0 specification, the root folder will contain all the content files, in HTML or XHTML format, plus a few special files such as 'content.opf' and 'toc.ncx'. In addition there are a number of appropriately named subfolders to contain images, style definition and any special fonts. The files 'content.opf' and 'toc.ncx' are in EPUB-specific XML format. As you can no doubt guess they are instrumental in providing the table of contents, and so they need to be kept in sync with each other.

While there could be just a single e-book content file, in practice an EPUB book is usually broken down into a collection of small chunks. The number and length of these chunks is completely at the discretion of the e-book creator, although new sections and chapters are obvious divisional candidates. Typically you also find a separate file for the book's cover, in addition to files for the introductory pages and index.

To ensure your e-book is supported by the widest range of e-reader devices you should only use simple HTML. The more HTML elements you include and the more sophisticated your styles become, the more chance there is of something not being displayed too well.

Download the free Micro Mart iPad/iPhone app and purchase the magazine for only £1.49.

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