I thought a good way to start the new year would be a 2018 ebook conversion guide. Things changed quite a bit in 2017. Plus, CC 2018 added some handy new features. Remember, I have a seemingly unusual attitude. I believe that spending a lot of time hand-coding a book is a waste of time. The good news is that InDesign CC now works well enough to make writing code unnecessary.
2018 ebook conversion guide
As you know, almost all of InDesign’s output is in ebook form. Even for the print book, we produce a PDF. This PDF reads wonderfully well in iBooks or any ereader which can handle PDFs. You can also make a full-color downloadable version.
Now that ePUBs and Kindle books have reached the tipping point [become more than 50% of sales for most of us], we truly need to be sure we make an excellent ebook for sale. At this point, my best sales per distributor are again through Createspace. But including Kindle, Amazon has close to two-thirds of my book sales. However, this is still changing fairly quickly. Both the iBookstore and Kobo are stagnating. Nook is shooting itself in the foot. Direct uploads to those three sites are barely 1% of my book sales. Even including Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and GooglePlay, these three ereader competitors [iBooks, Nook, and Kobo] are barely twelve and a half percent. My direct sales are more than that.
ePUB & Kindle design in InDesign
The 2018 ebook conversion guide will probably change throughout the year—as it always does. I do need to mention two basic assumptions before you can make an ePUB or Kindle book.
- First of all, you need the book completely written, edited, and proofread: It’s very painful to format a book that is not completed unless you are actually writing in InDesign [which I recommend, as you know]. Plus, you certainly do not want a situation where you make changes in the ePUB which need to be added to the print version and on and on.
- Secondly, you need to have the book completely formatted for print in InDesign: This means that all copy is formatted with styles: paragraph, character, table, cell, and object styles. No local formatting is acceptable. If it is not completely formatted, you will have no way to control your ePUB globally and you will waste many hours and probably many days, weeks, or months.
Everything in HTML/CSS is formatted. Basically, all we have to deal with are h1–h6 and p. Though coding purists will squeal, InDesign’s use of classes enables a full use of typographic styles: paragraph and character. If you remain typographically challenged I suggest my book, Book Publishing With InDesign CC, or my video coursework on Udemy.
Fixed Layout ebooks
PDF remains the obvious answer, but creating PDFs outside of Adobe can introduce quality issues. Plus, they really do not read well on mobile devices—even on tablets. However, we do have three viable options.
- The downloadable PDF: Yeah, I know what I just said. However, many people want and prefer a PDF. I assume they want it for their laptop or desktop computers. However, your print PDF should really be modified for excellent use as a downloadable PDF with color graphics, photos, and layout details. You should also eliminate as much front matter as possible and use your color cover as your title page. I often do one in readers’ spreads and one in single pages.
- ePUB FXL: This fixed layout ePUB is accepted by iBooks and Kobo. So far, I’ve never really seen any sales here. But if you are using the book for a textbook, I would suggest making a print version which will work as an ePUB FXL also. In InDesign, there are remarkably few limitations other than no OpenType features can be used, and you cannot use justified copy.
- Kindle’s Print Replica version: Kindle provides a free app, Kindle Textbook Creator, which converts a PDF to a fixed layout Kindle which they label [Print Replica]. I use my full-color downloadable PDF for that. It converts your PDF to a KDF, retaining all links, very quickly. The upload presents no issues, and the resulting Kindle book sells surprisingly well. I now do both a reflow and a Print Replica version for many of my Kindle books.
Opentype features for the 2018 ebook conversion guide
In general, ePUBs and Kindle reflowable versions still cannot handle OpenType features. Because of this, I developed special ebook versions of my normal book production font families. The Librum group has Librum E which uses oldstyle figures and contains several dingbats to use with lists. In addition, Librum E Sm Cap enables me to use small caps in my ebooks. For the Contenu family, I developed Contenu Ebook but I never created a small caps font for ebooks.
Typekit in the Creative Cloud allows ebook use. You’ll need to look for fonts where oldstyle figures are the default. Some of the full families also have Small Cap versions.
Reflowable ebooks: ePUB & Kindle
ePUBs can handle most of what you need. There are still some problems with tables but even here InDesign works fairly well. You can only use solid and dashed borders, with no gradients. Your lists can be quite complex—if you use the Convert to Text option. Nested styles work flawlessly. Plus, you can embed any font for which you have a license. You do have to use TTF or OTF fonts.
Draft2Digital now accepts embedded fonts in an ePUB2 for distribution. They work for everything except Scribd, at this point. Smashwords accepts an ePUB2, but only my Kindle version [see below].
Kindle Reflowable: These books cause me fits. It has gotten so bad that I produce a very stripped down version for them. They usually strip out enbedded fonts—as a result I set my Kindle books entirely in Bookerly [Amazon’s Kindle font of choice]. They cannot handle fancy lists or dingbats so I leave them on Map to Unordered or Ordered and accept the ugliness of HTML lists. They destroy tables. As a result, I convert simple tables to graphics or rewrite them into a list. The problem seems to be their post-upload convertion to “Enhanced Typography”. They change the books without your knowledge or input. You have to buy a copy to find out what they did—though you can see some of the changes in Look Inside.
Their graphics requirements are very specific. I posted on this last June. Basically, they want print-quality JPEGs. The resolutions are very high. For full-width images, they want 3200 pixels wide. You can use GIFs or PNGs for lineart, but the maximum size in pixels remains 600w by 500h.