EBook Design

Just like regular books, the design, both interior and exterior, of an ebook is important. To see an example of what I mean, see Carolyn Jewel’s post, Why eBook Formatting Matters – A Case Study. She includes examples of how her ebook looks on different devices, as well as what a well-formatted ebook looks like compared to some that was converted automatically. Auto-generated ebooks can sometimes make things confusing for readers, such as by not italicizing, or through incorrect indenting. 

So what should you do? If you have the time, you should really read the EPUB spec to know what exactly goes in to an ebook and how to format it. EPUB is the international standard for ebooks, and pretty much everyone but Amazon uses this format. EPUB files are basically a package of zipped up files.

The main files you need in an ebook are:

  • opf
  • toc.ncx (not necessarily for EPUB3)
  • container.XML
  • mimetype
  • OEBS (folder)
  • META-INF (folder)
  • stylesheet (CSS)
  • HTML files (or XHTML)
  • fonts
  • images

Fonts, images, HTML files, stylesheet, opf and toc.ncx can all go in the OEBS folder (and can be divided into further folders). The container.xml goes in to the META-INF folder. All of these files and folders will be in a larger folder, which you will need to zip.

The opf file contains the spine and manifest, which tells the EPUB which files are in the ebook and where they should appear. Once you’ve created and zipped the folder into EPUB, you will need to validate. If your EPUB is not validated, you will not be able to sell and distribute it on other channels.

Some other things to remember are that ebooks can be fixed format or reflowable. Fixed format is usually used for children’s books, and it means that all the images and text have a specified place on the screen. Reflowable means text does not always appear in the same place.

There are also now two EPUB versions, EPUB2 and EPUB3. EPUB3 was recently adopted and many ereaders and tablets are not yet capable of using all its features. However, with EPUB you will be able to add video, audio, and interactivity via Javascript. Currently the iPad is the only device that allows you to do read aloud functionality, and uses the most features available with EPUB3.

I mentioned that Amazon does not use EPUB. Instead they use their proprietary formats MOBI and KF8. MOBI is used for its ereaders, for text only, and KF8 is used for Kindle Fire. KF8 is similar to EPUB3, in that it uses HTML5 and allows for certain features.

Another format to consider is PDF. These are getting less popular but can be read on any device.

Lastly, the metadata within and regarding to the ebook is extremely important. You can read more about metadata here.

To read more about how to create EPUB files, please see the following sites:

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