Creating e-books and reading them on mobile devices
Here’s the good news – creating e-books is not just for the big boys anymore – you can “DIY” and create an e-book of your own! The open epub standard is what makes this possible.
What’s an epub?
An epub, which is based on html/xhtml, is really just a .zip file that contains the necessary files for display on an e-reader.
What you need to create an epub
All you need is some free software, a simply formatted document, and some time (a whole lot of time if the document’s formatting isn’t simple). Anyway, the bottom line is that once you’re done, you (or anyone else) can read your opus on a smartphone, tablet, e-reader, or even a PC.
About your document
If you are starting from a Word document, you first need to save the document using the Web Page Filtered option. This option removes some of Word’s custom style elements and saves the document as an .htm file. But there’s often a lot of junk code still left behind in your document, and you’ll still need to use an html editor to clean it up before going any further. Once you’ve cleaned up your .htm version of your book, you can proceed with the conversion.
About the conversion software
Calibre is the most popular free e-book conversion software (http://calibre-ebook.com/). When you import your .htm files into Calibre, you can set parameters that control many aspects of the document. Then you click Calibre’s Convert button, and it will quickly produce your e-pub. Often, however, for even moderately formatted documents, you will need to clean up the epub further to get the formatting the way you want it. This is particularly true if you didn’t clean up your coding before you imported your .htm files into Calibre. For this round of cleanup, you can use Sigil (http://code.google.com/p/sigil/), which is a free WYSIWYG e-book editor.
Uploading and distributing
When you’re satisfied, you can copy your epub directly to your smartphone, tablet, or e-reader. If you’re looking for a wider distribution, you can e-mail your e-book or put it on a web site where many people can download it.
About the e-reader devices and e-reader software
Books in the epub format can be read on dedicated e-reader devices (Nook, Sony, and others) and most smartphones and tablets. The one notable exception is Amazon’s Kindle. However, the Kindle can accept e-books in .mobi format (which is another file format that can be produced using Calibre).
If you want to read your e-book on a smartphone or tablet, you will need an e-book reader application, such as iBook, Kobo, Stanza, FBReader, etc. These are all free and easily downloadable.
If you don’t want to get your hands dirty converting your document into an e-book, you can also sign up with Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes & Noble (Nook). These publishers will gladly perform the conversion for you (from almost any format) and then will handle sales and distribution through their respective web sites. As you would expect, Amazon and B&N set the terms in respect to royalties and content. So if you’ve written The Great American Novel and want to have it published, this may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re looking to publish your company’s policies and procedures manual or a short family history for your close relatives, this is probably not the best option.
The beauty of reflowable text – or why e-books are good
No matter how your e-book is created, the best thing about it is the reflowable text. This means that the text will reflow appropriately on your device, regardless of its size. So if you are reading an e-book on your tablet but then need to switch to your iPhone, the text will automatically adjust to fit the device and your preferences. Text will not be cut off at the right margin, and you will not have to scroll horizontally to read the rest of each line. This reflow capability is what gives e-books their hardware independence and makes it possible for people to read normally on various devices.
Other e-book goodies
The library management tools that come with most e-readers provide many other great reading enhancements, including:
- Night reading – which lets you change the book’s background color to black and the type to white – a perfect feature for a road warrior stuck on an airplane in the middle of the night.
- Search, edit, and bookmark – all handy tools if you need to find and collect information for future reference.
- Change font selection and size – a nice way to accommodate different reading preferences.
The bottom line
With the ability to create e-books, you can now produce documents that take advantage of all these features. So if you have a user guide, manual, or even your memoirs stored somewhere on your hard drive, you can publish to the e-book format and expand your audience to the multitudes reading on smartphones, tablets, and e-readers.