Thursday, March 18, 2010

ePub-ing for an iPad

Lulu.com (where I self-publish my books) said they might give me an iPad if I convert my book to the mobile ePub format. OK. I can do that. I got to thinking... that might mean that Lulu doesn't have a lot of content for the iPad ebook reader when it comes out in a couple of weeks (hence the prize). Being on the "bleeding edge" has its advantages. If my books are some of the few that are available, perhaps they will be read by more people.

That's worth messing around with some new software.

The Lulu blog made several suggestions for converting to ePub format... the first of which was to let them do it for between $175 and $495 (depending on word count of my book). Ahhh... no. I started with eCub and Calibre software. Google has a toolkit as well, but it relies on Java and my XP computer is currently on a Java-free diet after having a Java-induced stroke recently. No Google toolkit. The other tool recommended is Adobe InDesign but I don't have an extra $600 sitting around so here we go.

There was also a link to someone who had posted instructions for just doing it by hand. The instructions looked.... complicated. After living for years in an intimate relationship with computer programs, web browsers, and gadget software, I've learned that there is usually no margin for error and no hint about what you did wrong when you try to DIY some complex coding.

I'll start with the apps.

Both software packages were easy downloads and installs. Calibre has nice videos about how to navigate it's interface. While that's usually a good sign that you are dealing with a bad interface, watching the video helped in other ways. It helped me figure out sort of what the software is doing behind its GUI. That lets me make educated guesses about what goes wrong.

It also helped me figure out eCub.

I started with the Word doc that I used to create the PDFs on Lulu. I have two books I'm working with: a straightforward novel and children's book with some little illustrations. I got spoiled by PDFs. I can include graphical drop caps and pretty little pictures here and there. I can make a page break where I want it to. It prints out all pretty. It's predictable.

Not so much with the ePub format.

The Word docs were of no use to me at all. You need either plain text or HTML. The graphic designer in me screamed and had a small cow on her chair when she read the words "plain text". I got a hold on myself and thought about it. I do actually read ebooks. Most have formatting. Not a lot of them have pictures, but there is definitely typography.

Hmm. It must be the HTML.

So I pop open Dreamweaver, copy and paste a clean version of the children's book into a new page, remake all of my graphics and start linking it together. It took about two hours and I learned an important lesson: Never spend two hours on something that is just going to be a test. *banging head on desk* Seriously... one story or two would have been more than sufficient.

...Particularly because it didn't work anyway.

I put the HTML through eCub. I got a book... sort of. Actually, I got a cover, a first page with a single hyperlink and about 60 blank pages. The hyperlink took me nowhere.

Alrighty then... Moving on.

Calibre did a little better. I got the text of my book and it even gave me the images I had linked in. The formatting was a bit weird, though.

That was Calibre's built-in ebook reader. I tested it on the Sony reader I also have on my system.

Oh, goody. It's inconsistent.

I poked through the Calibre preferences a bit. It gives you output customized to specific ebook readers -- a bunch of them including the Sony series, the Nook, Kindle, and Microsoft. Hmmm. Apple isn't here yet. Well, let's stick to broadest format.

Maybe I can edit the code.

I opened it in Notepad (still my most trusted web coding tool) got gobblygook.

Neither eCub or Calibre give me a way to edit the code. They are designed much more as simple conversion tools and less as authoring tools. I do wonder if InDesign is allows more tweaking of the appearance but I have a sneaking suspicion that it doesn't. The idea, after all, is to lock up the content in this digital format. It's supposed to be hard to hack.

Well, maybe the illustrated children's book can wait. Let's convert the novel.

Again, the Word doc did me no good. *grumble* I don't want to convert this whole thing to HTML... wait... hold the phone.... I already converted this to a blog. BWAHAHAHA! I just export the content out of Blogger, convert that bad boy, upload it to Lulu, and pat myself on the back for a job well done.

Blogger exports XML. The conversion programs don't take XML. I open the XML file in Notepad. Screens and screens of unorganized lines of code gets vomited out on to my screen.

*sigh* I don't think so.

I'm not done yet. I pulled out my trusty Backstreet Browser (an application that copies a web site to my hard drive for later off-line browsing). That gave me what I needed. The eCub interface is a bit simpler and more straightforward so I started with that.

I get another book with a cover, a table of contents, and 80 blank pages.

I'm starting to hate eCub.

Calibre comes through for me again, but there is a catch... it looks like my blog.

There's the background image, there's the archive links, there's the widgets... yeah. That won't work. I'm going to have to get back into Dreamweaver and clean those HTML files up. I did learn that the automated table of contents works like a champ. The fact that the background image worked is interesting, but not good for ebook usability. You need all of the black-on-white contrast that you can get.

It looks like Calibre will be my tool of choice... at least for the novel.

Stay tuned for more adventures in ePub conversions coming soon!

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