Beyond creating a cover and converting an MS Word file, ebooks are evolving – exponentially. Yet, bridging the gap between traditional print methods with digital innovation has created huge barriers for authors not being able to sell one version of their work across all platforms.
Working with authors and educators, I’ve been on a quest to make interactive ebooks accessible and easy to share. Beyond iBooks Author, I wanted to showcase that publishing a quality interactive ebook is certainly possible. Here are five helpful tips about producing an enhanced EPUB ebook and what I’ve learned along the way.
1. Define Your Audience
Who is your reader? Where will they consume your book? Will you be sharing your ebook with students, friends and family, or do you want to sell your work? Just as in creating a print book, research your competitors to ensure what you offer is unique. Check the 1-3 star reviews to see where your voice can fill that void. As the enhanced ebook market is starting to gain traction, an interactive ebook could help your work stand out from the crowd.
2. Publishing Software
First, some terminology – an EPUB is a format for ebooks, and an EPUB3 file is also an ebook.
A fixed-layout ebook supports full-bleed images, audio, video and interactivity. If you choose re-flowable or fluid, the layout is optimized based on the screens viewing dimensions, and as the reader scrolls through – the experience displays in the order of your elements.
Currently, iBooks Author, InDesign and Kotobee and the recent upgrade of Apple Pages, you can now export an enhanced EPUB. These updates started pushing the interactive ebook needle forward. Although not as robust as iBooks Author, InDesign and Apple Pages do provide the ability to insert interactivity including image galleries, audio, video, and graphic elements.
The final EPUB format requires a reader or an app, and although your eBook is a fixed format, your visuals may appear altered on each reader. PressBooks author, Hugh McGuire, outlines the ugly non-secret on how your EPUB looks different on each platform here.
3. Asset Collection and Organization
From there, use a spreadsheet to organize your media elements to keep track of size and formats. If you publish to iBooks or Google Play, ideally your book should be under 1GB, but they accept files up to 2GB. Kobo files must be under 100M.
TECH TIP: 100 megabytes equals less than an hour of audio or one minute of high-definition video.
Knowing that video can instantly bloat your book’s file size, the best option is to embed videos from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, or your website. If the copyright limitations don’t allow embedding, you can link the video in your ebook for your readers to watch directly from the hosting websites, to do so; your readers need to have Internet access.
For audio, you can link to a hosting site like SoundCloud. If you’re not sure about Soundcloud, this article lists 14 Alternatives.
You can extend your ebook’s interactivity by using BookWidgets. BookWidgets is a cloud-based solution with many customizable interactive widgets, which include flashcards, quizzes crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, before and after, image carousels, Google maps, spreadsheets, a PDF viewer, and more.
4. Visual Branding and Layout
It has never been easier to create a brand and tell your enhanced digital story. Let your visuals set the stage. Deliver an emotional promise to your niche audience through colours, fonts, patterns, logo, and icons.
Use your best photography that matches your colour palette and keep your layouts consistent.
Repetition is not dull; it builds visual trust and trains the reader to anticipate and look forward to experiencing the interactivity.
Place your brand and ebook elements on Dropbox. Develop a brand board that you print out and frame. The bonus is being able to share your assets with other hired professionals painlessly.
MY BEST TIP: Use your asset spreadsheet information to map out your reader’s journey. Grab a pencil and your sketch pad to plan your chapter and page layout ideas. These thumbnail sketches don’t need to be fancy.
- Use circles to represent audio, squares for images and triangles to indicate interactive widgets.
- Taking the lead from those in print, create a flatplan and a paper mockup of your book. When you look at your eBook as a whole, you can see where it looks sparse or too content-heavy.
- Keep things simple; don’t overwhelm the reader. Your content and experiences need to flow.
- Decide whether you’re going to do a fixed or fluid layout. They seem similar, but they’re distinct, so you can’t switch back halfway through.
- Choosing the fixed layout option, you see everything on the page, your design appears just as you intended.
5. Things to Consider Before You Publish
- DRM (Digital Rights Management) protects your ebook; it stops users from copying and printing or sharing your work. DRM locks your ebook down to a particular format and particular reader.
- Creative Commons for free online materials may require attribution.
- Copyright licenses for purchased goods may only allow for personal use or one project. Check before publishing, as if you plan on selling your book, a commercial license is required. If unsure, to avoid legal action, ask the seller or the source.
- Dead links are a reality in digital publications; be wary of linking to content that is not your own. If the source is trustworthy, then take the risk, otherwise, set reminders to check your links.
With several large publishers like Pearson’s going strictly digital, the hope is that the market place embraces innovators who are pioneering cross-platform, digital publishing tools and services for creating interactive ebooks.
Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about your interactive ebook experiences, discoveries, wish-lists, or questions. You can find me on Twitter @interactivebee.
Bee Kapitan is the Founder and Creative Director of Interactive Bee Media, who specializes in author branding and interactive publications. Bee is a co-author, designer and publisher of the multi-award-winning iBook, How to Say Cheese – An Interactive Cheese Journey. Bee is available to critique your author branding – or chat about your interactive ebook ideas.