EAC Conference 2012, Day 1—E-publishing essentials for editors

Greg Ioannou, president of EAC and publisher of Iguana Books, gave an overview of some of the things editors should know about ebooks, beginning with a bit of history: the first ebook was a computerized index of Thomas Aquinas’s works and was released in the 1940s. In the 1960s hypertext was used to format ebooks so that they could be read using different window sizes and monitors on IBM mainframes. The first ereader was Sony’s Data Discman, which displayed ebooks stored on CD.

Although there are hundreds of types of e-readers, many of them with proprietary file formats, the most common ones include EPUB, EPUB2, MOBI, and PDF. Most ebooks are basically just HTML files with metadata that help bookstores categorize them (e.g., title, author, description, ISBN, publication date, keywords, etc.) The editor [ed—or perhaps an indexer?] is in the best position to know what keywords should included in the metadata file.

At Iguana, the creation sequence is as follows:

For simple books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from Word (Iguana has discovered that they have to produce at least one print-on-demand copy for the author or, more often, as Ioannou says, the author’s mother).
  • create EPUB file using Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

For complex books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from InDesign
  • create EPUB file from InDesign
  • clean up EPUB in Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

Once you’ve created your files, Ioannou said, you should actually look at the ebook on the device(s) it’s destined for; looking at it on just the computer can be deceiving. Right now InDesign’s EPUB export doesn’t actually work very well, so the outputs have to be cleaned up quite a bit.

Ioannou then described the many devices on which ebooks could be read, including tablets, phones, computers, Kindles, and other e-readers (e.g., Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, etc.). Only the Kindles can read MOBI files, whereas the other devices can all read EPUB files. All can display PDFs, although only tablets, smartphones, and computers can display colour and play videos.

Since EPUB/MOBI files are reflowable and may be read on very narrow devices like a smart phone, editors should keep the following in mind when editing for an ebook:

  • Make sure that there are spaces before and after dashes
  • Opt for hyphenating a compound rather than using a closed compound; however, avoid hyphenations when it could lead to odd line breaks (e.g., choose “ereader” over “e-reader”).
  • Make sure all quotes are smart quotes; this is relatively easy to do in Word but much more difficult to code in Sigil or Calibre.
  • Books without chapters don’t work very well as ebooks—the large file size can significantly slow down an e-reader. If possible, break a book down into chapters of ideally between 3,000 and 5,000 words. This structure also makes navigating an ebook much easier.
  • As for formatting, keep it simple. Tables and column look terrible on an e-reader, and images won’t display in some older e-readers. Most e-readers are black and white only, and many older e-readers can’t handle large files (e.g., files with embedded images and videos).

Ioannou noted that e-readers are primitive machines and that the technology’s rapidly changing. His caveat: “Most of what I say here will not be true a year from now, and practically none of it will be true two years from now.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: