Thursday, January 03, 2013

How to make an eBook

(blogarhythm ~ Land of a Thousand Words - Scissor Sisters)

So eBook sales have surpassed hardcover for the first time, and it is no surprise that the rise of the tablets is the main driver.

There's something quite comfortable about having a nice digital bundle of information at your fingertips, like warm buttered toast.

With relatively open standards and the ubiquity of ereaders, the ebook has become ideal packaging for all manner of information, from training manuals to open source project documentation. Or even that book that apparently 81% of us believe we have inside.

So how do you make an ebook? My first thought on searching for options is that we are pretty spoiled for choice. But there are important caveats to note, like how Apple iBooks Author can only publish in full fidelity to iTunes Book Store. And we can't get far before needing to study up on the various formats out there: EPUB is widely used, but not without its criticisms and edge-cases especially when trying to push the boundaries with multimedia and social aspects; the Kindle and other ereaders expect Mobi; and Kindle Fire introduced the KF8 format.

The good news is that producing pretty standard EPUB, Mobi, PDF and HTML variants of your book can be done very easily with a range of commercial and non-commercial tools. It's even possible to build an EPUB by hand with just a text editor if you are game.

I started to experiment with some open source toolchains to see just how well they work in practice. Personally, I'm liking the simplicity of using pandoc to build a range of output formats from markdown source files.

My experiments are in the eBook Toolchains project on github if you'd like to examine the various approaches I've tried. Have you tried something that's not there? I'd love to hear about it - comment below or better yet, send me a pull-request on the github project with your examples added!

4 comments:

Gary Myers said...

KF8 works on e-ink kindles too, though older ones may need to have the software updated.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200529700

Paul Gallagher said...

Thanks for the clarification Gary! I don't own a Kindle so I only get to learn about it vicariously;-)

Justin said...

You can consider pandoc, which publishes markdown to pdf, epub, and presumably other output formats.

Paul Gallagher said...

Yes Justin, I actually included pandoc in the ebook-toolchains experiments. I like its simplicity.