EPUB progress

I had a number of kludge approaches to creating EPUB versions of my books (largely documented on my blog, particularly during 2012. Look under the “Self-Publishing” tag). Mostly, I was converting from Adobe InDesign to mobi with the Kindle InDesign plug-in converter, and from mobi to EPUB with the Calibre e-book management program.

The resulting files were good enough for many applications, but routinely failed the EPUB Validator check on a few issues.

After my Smashwords publishing experience, I began trying to perfect my technique for converting from Word files to EPUB. Unfortunately, outside of Smashwords, this still required an intermediate HTML step to make an EPUB file on Calibre, so I was still getting some bugs.

Now, Calibre has come up with an update that allows direct import of Word .docx files for conversion. When I combined this new tool with the techniques for building easy-to-convert Word documents that I learned from the Smashwords Style Guide, the result was a nice, clean EPUB file that passed validation with flying colors. And about frigging time, too.

This is all probably a big yawn for the HTML wizards out there who already do a great job by grinding through the actual code, but for code idiots like me, it was a godsend.

I’ve updated my buggy Nook file and sent it off to Nook Press.  Now I could probably do a direct upload for iBook too, and finally pass their strict checks, but I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble to chew through the whole Apple Author program and everything when I’ve already got iBook access through Smashwords.

As usual, a lot of the hassle for me was making sure the table of contents worked right, as well as the endnotes. Then there were annoying bugs like a missing blank line under one (and only one!) chapter heading, or two chapters that had no nice gap between the end of one chapter and the start of the next (chapter heading shows up in the middle of a page). This was all particularly bothersome since I had to submit the Word file to Smashwords and their “Meatgrinder” converter, and then make sure all the file types were readable. If all the formats worked except one (usually the mobi), I’d have to tweak the Word file and upload the whole thing again.

It’s much easier when I’m doing all the conversion work locally. I can debug before I send the final product out.

Nook version done (finally)

The “formatting tweaks” took more tweaking than I thought (I won’t bore you with the messy details), but I fired off my EPUB version of Castle Falcon to Barnes and Noble this morning. I’m interested in how the book’s online web page will look.

As I said before, the hardest part of e-book publishing is coming up with a file that does what you want it to when it shows up on someone’s e-reader.

A quick summary of programs I found helpful:

Adobe InDesign is great for formatting real paper books but it’s expensive. If you’re a student, you can get it a lot cheaper. The Kindle Plugin turns out reliable Kindle files, but I found that InDesign’s EPUB save function had some bugs. Your mileage may vary.  Most people will get more use out of methods of converting Word files and the like, and unfortunately I didn’t do a lot of that so I don’t have much advice in that area.

Calibre is a great program for dealing with e-book files on multiple levels. I used it to create good EPUB files by simply converting my final Kindle files. It can do a lot more, but that one function was what saved my bacon.

Sigil is another editing program for working with e-books. Although I only used it for one minor formatting issue (losing my “coding virginity”) the program would be excellent for those familiar with HTML and working “under the hood” on e-books.

You can find book viewers (Kindle or EPUB) for any computer or almost anything that has a screen. If you don’t actually own an e-reader, this is critical for previewing your final files. All of the readers are free.

Kindle viewers can be found here.

Nook (EPUB) reading apps can be found here.

Now maybe I should get back to actually writing books…the one part of being an author that’s even harder than creating e-book files.

Footnote aggravations

Since the last entry, I found some serious problems with the footnotes in my EPUB version of Castle Falcon.

Unlike the Kindle conversion plugin for Adobe InDesign, InDesign’s built-in “save as EPUB” function has no mechanism for driving my Pratchett-style humorous footnotes to the very end of the book (essentially converting them to endnotes).  The only two choices I have are to have the footnotes right at the end of the paragraph they appear in (blech!) or have them show up at the end of each chapter (blech squared!)

What’s so bad about that?  Well, if you’re doing your job right as a writer (or at least trying to), the end of a good chapter should be a nice punch line that really makes your reader want to find out what happens next:

“Suddenly he turned around, and there was the creature he’d been hunting, right behind him.”

Now, imagine that snappy fadeout with a humorous footnote (from a completely different part of the chapter) tacked right after the last sentence on the page:

“Suddenly he turned around, and there was the creature he’d been hunting, right behind him.”
[12] Everyone else in the family believed that anchovies on pizza were a crime against nature.

On the smooth road of carefully-planned plot development, your reader has just tripped over a nice big cement block.

So if InDesign couldn’t get my notes back to the end of the book where I wanted them, what could?  (No doubt the EPUB wizards out there are smiling indulgently right now, going over the dozens of complex code modifications they’d use to fix this, but keep in mind I’m quite new at all of this.  Besides, I really don’t like working with code.)

The next thing I tried was starting from an original Word manuscript and importing that into the PubIt! converter online.  I spent a lot of time wandering around that particular dead end.  The footnote links in the resulting EPUB were at the end of the book all right, but they didn’t work properly.

In the converted Word file the footnote references in the text linked back to the notes at the end of the book, but they didn’t link in the other direction.  Only the last endnote, number 16, linked back to the original page when I previewed a download using Nook for PC.  In Adobe Digital Editions, it was even weirder.  All the endnotes linked backwards to the same obscure page in the book, and that page didn’t even have a note reference in the first place.

At this point, I was almost ready to chuck the whole thing.  I decided to pull up an EPUB file editor to see what was going on in the (gulp) code, and used a program called Calibre which I’d downloaded a while ago.

I noticed then that Calibre comes with a file converter function.  Well, whaddaya know. One of their recommended input formats is Mobi (Kindle), so just for kicks I used Calibre to convert my already-working Kindle file to create an EPUB file.

Wow!  The EPUB file came out with working endnotes at the end of the file, just like the Kindle version, and they linked back and forth properly.  As a bonus, Calibre had converted the Kindle file’s table of contents too (I never created one for the Word file).  The links on this also worked properly, linking each table of contents entry to the proper chapter beginning.

There are still one or two minor formatting tweaks I’d like to do before I’m ready to publish my Nook version at Barnes and Noble, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel.