Ten things to
An introduction for book-producers
Fastest way to learn how to make ebooks:
1. Read some ebooks.
2. Start making an ebook.
3. Google and experiment a lot. (A few days.)
4. Sell the ebook.
No course or slide deck can replace that.
Meanwhile, here are ten things you need to
know more about.
1. Static vs reflowable
Your ebooks will be static or reflowable.
● Most static ebooks are PDFs: the pages
stay exactly the way you designed them.
Nice! But on a small screen they’re a pain to
read. Think coffee-table art books.
● Reflowable ebooks have no ‘pages’ as
such. Most are .epub or .mobi files. Their
text and images resize for different screens.
Think novels, biographies and business
2. Ebook ≠ Website ≠ App
Are you making ebooks, websites or apps?
● Ebooks are just text and images, and
have no moving parts. They must be opened
in an ebook app, like Amazon Kindle or
● Websites are text and images, too, but you
must be online to read them.
● Apps are little machines made of software.
Ereading apps can open ebooks. Some title-
specific apps contain only one ebook.
3. Content ≠ design
In print, content and design are intertwined. But
in ebooks (and websites), content and design
are separate till they hit your screen. In ebooks:
● You control content. So make it awesome.
● You provide design preferences, but the
ereading app makes the design decisions.
This is deliberate. (Read up, or watch a video.)
It’s also why many ebooks look rubbish on
4. Styling for purpose
If you’re not using MS Word and InDesign
styles for design already, you’re wasting
Then, when you use styles, make sure you
name styles for purpose, not appearance.
And use lowercase and no spaces. E.g.:
● use ‘chapter-head’ not ‘Big heading left’
● use ‘emphasis’ not ‘italic’
(By the way, your style names will become tags
5. Learn to check ebooks
Many publishers don’t check ebooks for errors,
or don’t know what to look for. Gah.
● Things that made sense when laying out
print break down in ebooks: hyphens
inserted for hyphenation, headings tagged
incorrectly, wide tables turned 90°
● Text and background image colours that
only work on a white background.
● High-res images that make file sizes huge.
That’s just to start. The rest is trial and error.
6. Ebook toolkit
You need some tools to make and manage
ebooks. Useful ones:
● Sigil (for editing epubs)
● Calibre (for converting between formats)
● Kindle Previewer (for testing)
● Acrobat Pro/Foxit Phantom (refining PDFs)
Also, an iPad and an Android tablet or phone,
with as many ereading apps as you can find.
7. Don’t hype multimedia
The peanut gallery wants ebooks to include
music, video, games, quizzes and more.
That’s possible. But don’t rush.
● Multimedia breaks in many ereaders.
● Books work well as text and images. Always
have. Leave software to software makers.
● Adding multimedia raises costs and file sizes
and rights obligations.
Rather: just link to YouTube videos as needed.
Digital Rights Management is meant to stop
people sharing ebooks. For instance, by locking
ebooks to a specific user’s account.
● No one knows for sure if it protects sales.
● It often costs money to implement.
● It confuses consumers and leads to higher
● Those who want to break it will break it.
My take: spend your time on marketing instead.
9. Manage your metadata
● Metadata is info about a book: title, author,
price, blurb, ISBNs, rights, etc.
● Many publishers manage it badly. You must
keep all metadata in one well-organised
● Clean, thorough, organised metadata is
critical to ebook creation, management and
● Start simple: a Google Docs spreadsheet or
a spreadsheet shared on Dropbox.
10. A little HTML and CSS
The Web and all reflowable ebooks are built in
HTML and CSS.
● HTML is the code that stores text in tags
● CSS is the code that defines the design of
that text. Colours, sizes, placement, etc.
If you can just pick your way through HTML and
CSS, your abilities jump exponentially.
Arthur Attwell: http://arthurattwell.com/about
These slides were created by Arthur Attwell, open-licensed as Creative
Commons Attribution–ShareAlike. So you can freely share and remix them, if
you credit Arthur Attwell, link to http://arthurattwell.com, and apply an open
license to your version. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/