How to Create a Basic Ebook in 10 Steps

After my short series on how to create a fixed format ebook, I thought I’d revisit the basic steps on how to create a regular ebook. This is for novels, or books with mostly text. There are 10 steps to creating an ebook, and if you find this useful, you might like to try out my online course, which has a number of videos that demonstrate the steps. 
1. Download and install Sigil

I recommend using Sigil because it’s a free program and because it allows you to create a clean, optimized file–I’ve had a lot of trouble with Calibre in the past, getting error messages and then not being able to upload to different distribution channels, and straight up Word doc conversions tend to be messy and end up not looking the way I want. (Note: Calibre is starting to get better, so in the future I will probably create a guide on how to make ebooks using Calibre).

2. Create XHTML/HTML files. When you open Sigil, you’ll see an untitled, blank EPUB.

Select the file “Section0001.xhtml” in the left sidebar under the folder “Text.” Right click and a set of options will appear. Use it to rename the file and to create more blank XHTML files. You will want separate files for the cover, title page, copyright, table of contents, acknowledgements, about the author, each chapter, and any additional sections in your book.

3. Add information in the <head> section of each XHTML file. To do this, make sure you are viewing your EPUB in the Code view. Click on the <> icon in the middle of the top tool bar to view the code. The icon of the book to the left of the code icon will switch it back to book view, which will display the file in a way that looks similar to an e-reading device. At the very least, you will want to add a line of code to link to the stylesheet (see next step).

Use this line of code:
<link href=”../Styles/style.css” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” />

4. Make a stylesheet. Select the folder “Styles” and right click. Click on “Add Blank Stylesheet.” Rename your new CSS file, and make sure it matches the name in the <head> section of your XHTML files (if you use the code above you should name it “style”). This will ensure your stylesheet is linked to your content, and that the styles (or formatting rules) you define will actually be applied to your ebook.

Now add your CSS rules. You can also use the rules defined in the sample EPUB. Common formatting includes indenting paragraphs, adding space between text, and centering images.

5. Add text to your ebook. Use http://word2cleanhtml.com to convert text from your Word doc to well-formatted HTML/XHTML code. Then apply your CSS rules in the XHTML, using “class” and “style” tags.

6. Insert images. Use SVG for your cover so it resizes to fit any screen. To add regular images in Sigil, select the “Images” folder. Rick click and choose “Add Existing Files.” The image will automatically be added to the “Images” folder. Make sure the names of your images do not contain spaces, as this will cause the EPUB to not validate. For example, an image file should be named
“image1.jpg” NOT “image 1.jpg”.

You can also add an image directly into the XHTML file. Go to book view and click on the area where you want the image to appear. Select “Insert”, on the top tool bar, and click “File.” Then either select an image already in the ebook, or click on other files to add a new image.

7. Enhance the OPF file. The OPF file contains a list of all the files included in the EPUB, and tells the reading device the order in which to display the XHTML files. There are four parts of the OPF file: metadata, manifest, spine, and guide.

Use Sigil’s Metadata Editor to add important information about the ebook. Click on the icon with the “i” on top of an image of a book, in the upper right corner, to access the Metadata Editor. Click on “Add Basic” and add the following: publication date, description, ISBN, language, publisher, and title. You can also add more fields if you’d like. Fill in the information. Next, click “Add Role” and add author and any other contributors. Fill in the information.

Sigil automatically adds information to the manifest each time you create/add an XHTML file, stylesheet, image, or other assets. The pro­gram also automatically adds XHTML files to the spine. The spine tells the e-reader or tablet the order in which to display XHTML files. If you want to change the order, edit the code in the spine.

8. Generate a Table of Contents. Personally I add two table of contents, one as an XHTML file with hyperlinks to chapters and one as an NCX file.

To create the NCX file, first make sure you have headings in your XHTML for all your chapters and sub-sections. Then click on the icon next to the Metadata Editor icon. Choose which headings to include in the NCX and whether or not you want to nest them. Then click OK.

9. Validate your EPUB. Use at least two different tools to validate. First, use Flight Crew in Sigil. Click on the big green checkmark in the upper right corner. Fix an errors or warnings that come up.

Next, validate with EPUBCHECK. If your EPUB is under 10 mb, you can use the IDPF Validator. If your EPUB is larger, download EPUBCHECK.

10. Check your EPUB. Make sure it is high-quality and looks good on as many devices as possible. Ebooks look different on each device. Invest in at least one tablet or e-reader, if possible, to see what your ebook will actually look like to a reader.

You can also use the following free tools:

My next goal is to write a series of posts explaining some advanced ebook creation techniques, such as adding audio and video. Any requests on what to cover? Please let me know in the comments!

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