Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Some revision notes and epub conversion lessons

I just finished a full revision of the four books of Socialite 1 and learned a few lessons that some of you may find helpful.  This stage of the self-publishing process was initiated by a desire to make the books available in print form.  I choose CreateSpace for the outlet because it's free, has a lot of helpful tools and templates for the design of the books and the covers (the image shown here is my final version of the cover for Book 2, created using the latest free demo version of Photoshop) and offers very reasonable royalties…but mostly because it's free to create the books.  This process was worthwhile, though time-consuming.

I began the edit step by placing the text of each book in a Word template (supplied by CreateSpace) that I selected for the size that I wanted for the final books.  I choose the 5X8 format.  I initially wrote the books in Pages - Apple's version of Word - and the cut and paste into Word was simple.  There were a couple of glitches involving page numbering and section breaks but nothing too complicated.  I loved that the margins were automatically adjusted for alternate pages to account for the binding.  I read helpful articles on the CreateSpace site about editing and cover design.  These resources led me to construct a short checklist for the final product.  Going through the checklist for each of the four books ensured consistency across the chapters and across the four books in the series.


  1. start chapters on odd numbered pages: this is a matter of personal preference, but at the very least I wanted to ensure that the book title page, dedication page, table of contents, first chapter, acknowledgement page and author's page started on an odd numbered page so that the reader would see it on the right side (not the left) when they opened the book.
  2. empty pages that separate sections or pad the end are totally empty - no numbers or headers
  3. justify text in chapters - I had found problems with this for my ebooks since I first created them for the Amazon Kindle and their .mobi format doesn't allow justification.  In this iteration I fixed that issue (though I noticed that after sending the files to Amazon's Kindle site the new books revert back to left aligned text.)
  4. Don't indent first paragraph of each chapter.  I set the tabs to 0 and used paragraph formatting (at 1.5 inches) for the remaining chapters as was suggested and it worked great.
  5. ellipses should be created using the single character rather than 3 periods - on a MAC this is done using the keyboard shortcut Alt + semicolon
  6. use proper hyphens, en- dashes and em-dashes - I found this article very helpful to fix any improper forms of these characters in the text ( )
  7. I had used 1.5 line spacing for my earlier epubs but found that single spacing looked better for the print versions
Once I had the text looking the way I wanted it I used the Edit-Find function to check that each of these points on the checklist was consistently followed. 

I loaded these books into CreateSpace, along with the newly created covers (again created using the appropriate template for the 5X8 book size.  I am now awaiting delivery of the book proofs.  Soon these will be available for marketing to book stores.

Creating new Epub Files:

Having completed the editing of the text, I had to make the ebooks consistent with the soon-to-be released print books.  For this stage I copied and pasted the Word version of the text back into Pages since Word does not have a SAVE to EPUB function, but Pages does.  I reused the formatting from my earlier files that worked as epubs ensuring that each type of text was assigned to a unique "style".  For example, the chapter titles were formatted as "Heading 2" in the paragraph styles section on Pages.  These styles are critical for proper conversion to the xhtml language of the ePub files.  Again, this was quite simple, but errors here can cause problems later, so I checked and rechecked all of the styles for consistency.  Once everything looked good I used the SHARE as EPUB feature in Pages to create the four files that would work on eReaders (iPads, Kobo, Sony etc.) except for Kindle.

I tested these on an iPad, iPod touch and a Kobo and they looked great - text was justified as I wanted, the table of contents worked great and the cover looked amazing.

The next step was to create the .mobi files for the Amazon Kindle.

Creating Kindle files:

I loaded each file into a free epub editing program called Sigil.  The program window is divided into sections to facilitate editing each part of the epub (an epub is actually a set of files and Sigil enables the readers to change each portion of it).  Learning how to use Sigil isn't hard, but figuring out which parts of the epub to change takes a little time.  I just Google each thing that I wanted to change and readily found answers to all of my questions.  Here are the most important things I learned:
  1. paragraph padding - ePubs created from Pages appear in Sigil with each paragraph separated by a huge gap.  This was annoying.  I found out that Pages inserts a piece of code at the beginning of each chapter that creates this padding.  The code looks like this: div.sgc-2 {white-space:pre-wrap}. I deleted all instances of that code and the paragraphs came out looking professional, without all that white-space.
  2. The book browser on the left side of the Sigil window shows all of the files in the ePub - one of them "cover.xhtml" will cause the Kindle to show two pages of your cover.  I simply deleted this file (right clicked on it and hit Remove).  Now the kindle will show a single cover of the book.
  3. The book Browser does not have the table of contents file needed by the kindle - I created a new one (right clicked on the "TEXT" folder and selected "New File" then renamed it to "toc.xhtml". I found a version of this file on a website and copied the code from that version into the code window for my file, then renamed the chapters accordingly. Here is a sample for anyone who wants to use my toc.xhtml code  (you don't have to understand all of it for it to work):                              

  4. Besides a few other minor adjustments, like asking Sigil to generate a separate table of contents file using the section on the left side of the Sigil window (this is the toc.ncx file a separate table of contents file from the first that must be in an epub) I had to add a piece of code into the file called "content.opf" to tell the eReader that I added a toc.xhtml file. the line of code makes the section called "guide" look like this:

Getting the Kindle files to look perfect was a little tedious but in two days I had all four books looking great.  I tested them using the free Kindle reader application on my mac - the latest version allows me to switch between different devices (Kindle fire, Kindle eReader and mobile versions of the Kindle reader) so I could adjust my ePubs for maximum compatibility.  It also automatically converts the ePub into a .mobi file. When everything looked great I sent these .mobi files to Kindle and voila - SUCCESS!

Please let me know if any of these instructions are unclear and I'd be happy to clarify.  There are many steps that I did not include in this post, so leave a comment or question if you are having problems with your own book conversions.

And - check out my books - the first one Bees to Benny is still free as an ebook. The new versions of my books are available to download at Amazon's Kindle site and will soon be available at Apple's iBookstore and at the Kobo ebookstore.

Amazon Kindle:

Apple iPad, Ipod, Iphone: