For a long time I’ve known I need to learn how to make and edit ebooks for kindle (.prc/mobi) and B&N (epub), but have been stuck by the steep learning curve. There are lots of different softwares to use, none of them seem to work well together, and converting word files into various ebook formats takes finesse, coding and lots of jumping through hoops. I reached out to Natasha from ebookartisandesign.com asking for some advice. I’m sharing the response below, as it’s clear she knows her stuff. (It gets pretty technical, but your level of comprehension is a good indicator of how much you’d need to learn to make your own ebooks).
Q: I really need to learn to do the ebook conversion/formatting myself… but I’m not comfortable enough with it yet. Do you mind if I ask what software(s) you use and find the most helpful. I figured if I knew what I was doing, converting to ebooks would probably take a few hours (strip out the formatting, fix the spacing, make the titles bigger, etc). Is that about right?
A: It’s true that I can do a simple novel without much but regular paragraphs in a few hours, but ebook formatting is a double-time job. I spend 1-2 hours a day just keeping up with the business. (Yes, things change THAT quickly.) If you have a good working knowledge of HTML and CSS, and also the new HTML5 bits, you might find it fun. Media queries are super important.
As far as software, I use Notepad++, (BBEdit is good if you’re on a Mac), Pagina’s ePub Checker, and Photoshop for optimizing images. I use InDesign for print design, and although the export to ePub option is a big fail, I’ll use it just to get workable HTML to use in my own files. You’ll need Kindle Previewer, too. Also, you’ll want to be comfortable with python scripts so you can obfuscate fonts for embedding. (None of the easier tools seem to work.)
The other thing to think about is that you actually need most of the devices. The online previewers don’t give accurate previewers, so to learn the bugs and fix the bugs and work around the bugs, you need the real devices. At minimum, an iPad, an e-ink Kindle, Kindle Fire, an e-ink Nook, a Nook Color (possibly a Nook tablet as well), a Kobo Touch, and a cell phone.
You can also keep up with the business by following the #ePrdctn tag on Twitter (absolutely necessary), and there’s some limited information on the ePrdctn wiki. Amazon has a fairly good manual on their Kindle Format 8 page (their ePub samples are completely useless), although you have to do page breaks by separate files, not the way they suggest. It’s sparse. iTunes has a great manual that you can download from iTunes Connect. The eBook Architects has a page of some great resources to get you started, but a bunch of stuff is a bit outdated. All the books you see on eBook formatting are outdated, except perhaps the O’Reilly ePub 3 books, but they’re not yet relevant. (Should be about this fall.)
Oh! And most importantly, you can read the ePub2 specs at the IDPG website. They make the standards. A DBW membership is good: they have some great videos available if you’re a member. Also Lynda.com has some great videos available.
It’s fun if you’re into coding and stuff. I love it. It’s one of those things. I thought it was super easy when I started, and it took me awhile to learn enough to realize I didn’t know diddly yet, LOL. It’s a more you know, the less you know sort of thing. There are no manuals or books on how to do this stuff, so you have to be into it and willing to test and experiment, which takes a TON of time. Sometimes you can spend two days trying to find/make a solution to a problem that’s unsolvable.
Conclusion: if you write novels or short stories with no pictures, you may be able to do your own ebooks. Sigil