How to Create an Ebook
This series of articles will not tell you how to write an ebook, or how to design a cover, or how to get your ebook noticed, or how to submit it to online bookshops such as Amazon. It will, however, tell you how to format the text so that any mistakes that do occur are the fault of the ebook–reading software rather than the author or publisher.
Problems with Ebooks
As a general rule, the production standard of printed books is much higher than that of ebooks. Whatever the format of the book, the occasional spelling mistake is only to be expected, but ebooks introduce a range of imperfections that you almost never see in printed books.
It is not uncommon for sections of text to appear in different typefaces for no obvious reason. Certain letters are sometimes rendered incorrectly; for example, ‘I am’ can appear as ‘1 am’. Parts of an ebook, such as images, can appear in the wrong place.
There are three main reasons for this:
- When publishers create ebook versions of existing print titles, they often scan the text and run it through optical character recognition software, which does not always render the characters correctly. The less scrupulous publishers do not invest in the services of a human being to check the results, one of several ways in which many commercial publishers place less value on ebooks than on printed books.
- When an ebook is created by taking a word–processed document and running it through specialist conversion software, unnecessary formatting code is sometimes added, which is then misinterpreted by ebook–reading software. This method is often used by self–published authors, although established publishers use it too.
- Images and other relatively extravagant features of ebooks are rendered incorrectly because some ebook–reading software is simply not good enough to deal properly with anything other than straightforward text.
There is nothing you can do about the third of these, but you can eliminate the first two by creating your ebook correctly in the first place.
Producing Good–Quality Ebooks
The following four articles in this series will give you the knowledge to create a wide range of ebooks, both fiction and non–fiction.
There is one problem, however. At the time of writing, 2018, it is difficult to format an ebook so that it looks equally good on every type of ebook–reading software or device. A design feature that works on one device may not be noticeable on a second device, and may mess up the layout on a third device. This is a consequence of the poor state of current ebook–reading software, which will no doubt improve in the future.
What Is an Ebook?
Ebooks are very similar to websites. Ebooks, like websites, are collections of documents. Each chapter of an ebook is the equivalent of a page in a website. Ebooks use the same coding system that websites use: HTML, or HyperText Markup Language.
Differences Between Ebooks and Websites
There are some minor differences:
- In one way, ebooks are simpler than websites. Largely because of the limited layout options of the ebook compared to the website, not all of the features of HTML that are in common use in websites can be used in ebooks.
- In another way, ebooks are more complex than websites. This is partly because ebooks contain a small number of technical documents that are not required in websites, but the main reason is that the code that is used in ebooks needs to be flawless. A web page that contains broken code may nevertheless be displayed reasonably accurately by modern web browser software, but an ebook simply will not work at all if the code contains mistakes.
At the time of writing, almost all ebooks are produced in one of two formats:
- EPUB is the standard, open ebook format. It uses specifications set up by the International Digital Publishing Forum, and is recognised by almost all ebook–reading software.
- Amazon’s main format, .mobi, is essentially the same as EPUB but with some added proprietary encryption. The purpose of the encryption is entirely commercial, to help Amazon control the market for ebooks, and makes no difference in practice to the technical quality of an ebook.
The documents that comprise an ebook are identical in both formats. A handful of other formats exist, but are not commonly used. This set of instructions deals with the EPUB and Amazon formats.
The Skills Needed to Create an Ebook
To follow these instructions, you require only very basic computer skills. You need to know how to copy and paste, how to create a folder or directory, how to save and name a document, and how to navigate to a document that is stored on your computer.
You will need to know that the words ‘document’ and ‘file’ are interchangeable, and that it is bad practice to include spaces in the names of files and folders. In the case of ebooks, file names must not include spaces, or the ebook will not work.
It will help if you know how to find and replace text, but this is not essential. You will also need to zip files, but you will be told how to do this.
The Tools Needed to Create an Ebook
You will be creating documents that consist solely of text and computer code. Don’t be afraid of the word ‘code’; everything is explained, and you will only need to copy what is given to you.
To do this, you will need to use a piece of software called a text editor. A word processor, such as Word, will not do. It will introduce formatting and layout code, which will cause the documents not to work as part of an ebook.
Your computer almost certainly contains a text editor:
- Windows operating systems include one: Notepad, which can be found in the list of programs under ‘Accessories.’
- Macintosh operating systems will normally include TextEdit.
- Several varieites of GNU/Linux will include Gedit.
Any of these text editors will do the job perfectly well. Others are available for each operating system; if you want to try something else, search online for ‘text editor‘ or ‘programming editor’. Windows users should be aware that Notepad lacks a couple of very handy features:
- the ability to display different elements in different colours, so that text appears in one colour, this type of code appears in a second colour, and that type of code appears in another colour;
- and automatic numbering of lines.
Documents become much easier to read when the various elements are colour–coded and when the lines are numbered. Windows users may like to know that there is program called Notepad Plus Plus which includes these features. It can be downloaded free of charge from http://notepad-plus-plus.org/. If you are a Windows user, you can create an ebook using Notepad, but Notepad Plus Plus will make your life much, much easier. Download it now!
Continue with the next article: Formatting the Text.
[This tutorial is part 1 of a series by Jeremy Bojczuk, showing you how to code an ebook.]