Using Pressbooks to Make EBooks

Pressbooks is a new, and more importantly, FREE, service that claims to make ebook production simple and easy. Their secret? It’s built on WordPress. 

According to the website, “PressBooks lets you and your team easily author and output books in multiple formats including: epub, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, HTML, and inDesign-ready XML.”

The way it works is you sign up, create a site, and start uploading images and pasting text. You can create an unlimited number of sites (one for each ebook). Once logged in, you can upload chapters, front matter, and back matter separately. If you choose, you can import your content from your blog. Next, link the content to a stylesheet. Pressbooks provides several stylesheets for you, and they look professional, but they were created for specific universities. Once everything is set, select the format you’d like to export (epub, mobi, pdf) and voila! You’re done.

However, since I’m pretty picky about how I want my ebooks to look, I decided to use Pressbooks more as a starting point. So, instead of building an ebook from scratch, I just had to go back and tweak it. What I did was link my own stylesheet, copied and pasted from Word docs all the text, and chose not to bother uploading any images, other than the cover. The result was decent, but I think Pressbooks has its pros and cons.

I’ll start with the cons so we can end on a positive note.

Cons

  • The HTML output comes in a wonky format (see image below). Code is indented weirdly and makes it harder to read and edit.
  • Pressbooks doesn’t yet let you easily organize chapters. If you upload a chapter and realize it needs to be chapter 4 instead of chapter 3, you will have to delete that chapter and reupload it, once you’ve uploaded the chapter preceding it
  • The HTML code is not always consistent. For example, sometimes it uses code for quotation marks (” etc), but sometimes it just uses quotation marks (“). This makes quotation marks look different and inconsistent in the ebook. Also, sometimes it added extra, blank, lines.
  • Although you can upload your own stylesheet, it doesn’t quite link up correctly. Not all of my headings showed up when I first exported the epub file. This also led to errors when I tried to validate the file, because I lost track of some of my changes and missed some closing tags.

And now for the pros!

Pros

  • Pressbooks is good for adding extra metadata. You can easily add extra information according to Dublin Core standards, such as keywords, description (long and short), language, BISAC codes, etc.
  • It’s a good starting point–easy to copy and paste text and then export as an epub file
  • And lastly…it’s FREE! Plus, no strings attached. There are a few other free services out there, but you have to automatically upload and start selling it on their sites, which makes it harder to go back and make your own changes. Pressbooks, on the other hand, is easily customizable.
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