ebooks – Stillpoint Digital Press http://stillpointdigital.com The human face of digital publishing Sat, 27 Jan 2018 05:53:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://i2.wp.com/stillpointdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Stillpoint-Enso-Logo-Red-55d2c0d1v1_site_icon.png?fit=32%2C32 ebooks – Stillpoint Digital Press http://stillpointdigital.com 32 32 97446753 Inside the Box: The Anatomy of an Ebook http://stillpointdigital.com/3538-2/ http://stillpointdigital.com/3538-2/#respond Fri, 03 Feb 2017 14:20:31 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3538 Over the next few posts, I’ll be showing you how ebooks are coded and formatted. We’ll look at the anatomy of an ebook, and what makes it tick. You’ve heard me call an ebook a website in a box. This time we’re going to talk about what’s inside the box. First thing’s first: let me share … Continue reading Inside the Box: The Anatomy of an Ebook

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Over the next few posts, I’ll be showing you how ebooks are coded and formatted. We’ll look at the anatomy of an ebook, and what makes it tick.

You’ve heard me call an ebook a website in a box. This time we’re going to talk about what’s inside the box.

First thing’s first: let me share an ebook with you. It’s the ePub file for a short story of mine called White Robes.

You’re welcome to read it, obviously, but for the purposes of this post (and the next two), we’re going to be opening up the box and dissecting the ebook.

This is the actual production file that I’ve uploaded to Amazon, by the way — it includes all of the coding and formatting that I typically include in creating an ebook. It will be the model that I’ll be using over the next few posts in discussing an ebook’s innards.

Opening the Box

What we’re going to look this time is the structure of the ebook — the collection of files that an ePub-ready ereader like Apple’s iBooks or Barnes & Noble’s Nook or Readium or Calibre or any of thousands of other apps can open.[1]

So now we have our website in a box. Let’s open the box and see what we’ve got![2]

There are just three steps:

  1. Duplicate your file (Never work on the original!)
  2. Convert the file ZIP format
  3. UnZIP the file

Step 1: Duplicate your file

Now, I’m going to assume that you’re using a Windows or Mac computer.[3]

We’re duplicating the file so that the original doesn’t get destroyed. Just a good habit to stay in, right?

In Windows, select the file in Windows Explorer by dragging over it or left-clicking on it once. From the Organize menu at the top of the window, select Copy. (You can do the same thing by right-clicking on the file and selecting Copy.)

In Mac OS X, select the file in the Finder by dragging over it or clicking on it once. Now hit command-D or go to the File menu and select Duplicate. (You can also control-click/right-click on the file and select Duplicate.)

You should now have a duplicate copy of the file:

Step 2: Convert to ZIP format

This is actually a much simpler process than you might think: an ePub file is just a carefully constructed ZIP archive with a different extension (the last three or four letters at the end of the file name).

If you don’t see the .epub extension at the end of your new file, click on/drag over the file to select it.

In Windows, go to the Organize menu and select Folder and Search Options. De-select the Hide known file extensions option. Click OK.

In Mac OS X, go to the File menu and select Get Info or hit command-I. If not already open, click on the triangle next to the Name and Extension heading to reveal the Hide extension option and deselect it. Close the Info window.

Now rename the file.

In Windows, right-click the file name and select Rename (or left-click and hold down the button for one second). Double-click the epub file extension (not including the period!) and replace it with the extension zip. Hit the Enter button.

In Mac OS X, click once on the file and hit the Return button. Double-click the epub file extension (not including the period!) and replace it with the extension zip. Hit the Return button.

Voilà! You’ve turned your ePub ebook into a ZIP archive.

Step 3: UnZIP the file

Whether you’ve got a Mac or Windows computer, you can simply double-click on the file now to expand the archive, turning it into a regular folder/directory on your desktop.

What’s inside the Box?

What’s inside, you ask?

Well, the first thing you’ll see is two more directories (we’ll talk about those in a minute) and a file called mimetype.

The mimetype file is a one-line piece of code that lets the ereader know what kind of file it’s reading — and that one line always reads as follows:


It’s telling the ereader that, in fact, this is an ePub file wrapped inside a ZIP archive. As if we didn’t already know that.

How about those two folders?

Well, one of them isn’t any more exciting. The META-INF folder usually contains just one file (container.xml),[4] and its sole purpose is to tell the ereader where to find the all-important OPF file. The OPF file is the traffic cop for the ebook, telling the ereader where to find everything, and what everything is. The folder where the OPF is located is called the root directory.

Sometimes the OPF is actually on the outermost level of the archive. Most often, however, you’ll find it in the OEBPS folder.

The root of the ebook: the OEBPS folder

OEBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure) is an XML-based specification for the content, structure, and presentation of electronic books. It is the blueprint on which any ePub file is built.

The OEBPS folder in any ebook will contain a number of important files, including our friend the OPS file, as well as a number of folders we’ll look at later.

Here’s the White Robes OEBPS folder:

Remember: this is the root directory. Every file reference given in the ebook will be given relative to this folder.

Now the two files are of great interest:

  1. The OPF file is our traffic cop
  2. The NCX is the navigation file[5]

The traffic cop: The OPF file

OPF stands for Open Packaging Format — so you’ll sometimes see the OPF referred to as the Package File. It contains all of the bibliographic and structural information about your ebook: what it is and where it is.

You can open the OPF file in any text-editing software like Notepad or TextEdit (or TextWrangler or BBEdit or whatever)[6]

Like all of the files in an ebook,[7] the OPF file is an XML file. That means that it’s a very carefully constructed set of data, set off in series of tags, each of which has an opening and closing version, that are (almost always) used in pairs around the data, like this: <tag>[DATA]</tag>

The version of the tag that starts with a forward slash (</tag>) is called the close tag.

The two important things to remember with XML tags:

  1. You can nest them (place one inside another like Russian dolls
  2. You always have to close the most recently opened tag first

Here’s how that works:

<outer tag><inner tag>[DATA]</inner tag></outer tag>

Did you see what I did there? The <inner tag> went inside of the <outer tag> — and I had to close the  </inner tag> before I closed the </outer tag>

Because of the way XML works, every thing that applies to the <outer tag> applies to <inner tag> unless the inner tag states otherwise. That’s called cascading, and will become more important when we talk about the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and the HTML code that makes up most of an ebook’s content.[8]

Warning: Feel free to poke around in the OPF file for White Robes. However, unless you are really confident in what you’re doing, I highly recommend not messing around with the OPF file in an ebook you’re preparing for publication. The file is created and updated automatically by the conversion/editing software that you’re using — making changes by hand without knowing what you’re doing can break your ebook.[9]

The OPF file is made of a header that identifies the kind of file that it is (the XML and package tags in lines 1–2), and then as many as four sections:

  1. The metadata section, which tells the ereader information about your book
  2. The manifest section, which tells the ereader where to find everything (listing every file contained in the ebook and its address)
  3. The spine section, which tells the ereader in what order it should display files (optional)
  4. The guide section, which tells the ereader where to find “special” files like the cover (optional)

Here’s the OPF file for White Robes:[10]

Boy, that’s a lot of stuff going on for one short story!

One interesting bit: in line 2 (along with a lot of other very important but opaque stuff) you can see the attribute version=”3.0″ This tells us that this is an ePub3 file. If the version number had been 2.0… Well, you can probably guess: it would be an ePub2 file.

There are a number of other major differences between the two types of ePub file, but that’s the flag that tells an ereader to treat this file as one kind of ePub or the other.

Many of the lines begin with an open tag and end with a close tag. A number don’t. They fall into two categories:

  1. Some contain all of the data within the tag — for example, all of the item tags (lines 22–56). In that case, rather than have two separate tags with nothing between them (i.e., <item href=[…]></item>) XML convention allows you to close the tag by putting a slash at the end of the open tag: <item href=[…]/>
  2. When a tag has one or more tags nested within it. For example, look at the guide tag, on line 72. There’s a reference tag on  line 73 before the guide close tag on line 74.

Each type of tag, from the various dc: (Dublin Core) metadata tags to the itemref tags, has an extremely specific syntax, and learning that is more than I could teach (or you would want to learn) here. However, you can find out more (much more) at the International Digital Publishing Forum page on OPF files. (The IDPF is the trade group responsible for the ePub format.)

One other thing that you might notice here: the addresses. Everything after an href or src attribute is a reference to a file within the ebook’s file structure. It’s exactly like one of the URLs we’re used to typing into the address bar at the top of our browser window to go to a particular web page. The only difference is that where a URL (uniform resource locator) has to give an address on the open internet, and must contain the protocol for the browser to use when it gets there (i.e., http://, ftp://, or mailto:), these addresses are always relative to the current document — they’re what are called URIs — uniform resource identifiers. They don’t include the protocol — and they have to be somewhere in the current file structure of the ebook (or web page). So for instance, on line 27, there’s a reference to where to find my headshot. The URI reads Images/headshot.jpg. That tells the ereader to look inside the Images folder for the file called headshot.jpg.[11]

Note that capitalization and spelling must be precisely correct. Headshot.jpg is not the same as headshot.jpg.

The roadmap: The NCX file

The other file that almost always appears in the root directory is the NCX or navigation file.

If you’ve ever read an ebook (and if you haven’t, you really should, if only so that you can understand what your readers’ experience!), you’ll know that there’s a pull-down table of contents — not the contents page at the front or back of the book, but a menu available wherever you are, so that you can navigate to wherever you want to go in the book. It looks something like this:

In ePub3, that menu is pulled from the table of contents page in your ebook — it’s essentially a slightly marked-up HTML page. In ePub2, you needed to create a separate file (the NCX file) to tell the ereader what to display.

Now, ePub3 is great — but not all ereaders can display it, especially the older ones. And so, for backwards compatibility (that is, so that newer software can run on older machines), it’s still a really good idea to include an ePub2-style NCX page.

Here’s what the NCX page for White Robes looks like:

Notice that each item in the table of contents (everything inside the navMap tags) is in its own set of navPoint tags, and that the navLabel and text tags tell the ereader what to display in the menu while the content tag shows what file to send the reader to when they click on the item.

Like the OPF file, most ebook-conversion and creation software will take care of this for you — but it’s good to know what’s there, in case a problem should come up.

All together now: The rest of the files

Let’s look at the OEBPS folder again:

You’ll see our friends the OPF and NCX files. And then there’s all of the rest of those folders. Sigil organizes all of the files neatly so that they’re easy to find: fonts in the Fonts folder, images in the Images folder, stylesheets in the Styles folder, and so forth. (Don’t forget to capitalize correctly!)

Here are the contents of the Images folder for White Robes:

Notice that all of the image files are there — the cover, the map, and all of the little images (including covers of other books) that are scattered throughout. Notice too that I’ve optimized those images so they’re fairly small.[12]

The fonts in the Fonts folder are ones that I have the right to use in ebooks in this case, they’ve been released into the public domain. They’re also OTF fonts (Microsoft’s OpenType font standard), which are the only ones that will work with most ereaders (and even then, not always).

There’s an XML file in the Misc folder that tells the ereader I’ve got custom fonts on board.

There’s a CSS stylesheet in the Styles folder. I’ll get to that in a couple of posts, I promise — and it will a lot more hands on than this one!

Last but not least we find the actual body of the ebook, the (X)HTML files, in the Text folder:

Note that they’re in alphabetical order — but that’s not how they’re displayed in the book. Remember the spine section of the OPF file? Yup. That’s what defines the order.

In any case, next month, we’re going to look at how those files are built!

Clean Up

That’s all for now. But if you want to clean up the files you’ve been poking around in, just go back until you see the folder that contained the ebook:

In Windows, select the folder (“ebook-sample-White-Robes-copy”), right-click on it, and then select Send to, and then Compressed (zipped) folder. Then change the extension back to .epub.

For Macs, this part is a bit more complicated; OS X adds invisible files that mess with the ePub file structure. The easiest way to re-ZIP the ebook is to use a little freeware script called Zip/Unzip. It’s not a new script (version 3 is at least five years old), but it still works wonderfully. Drag your file onto the script, and it will take care of re-compressing your folder and renaming the archive with the proper .epub extension.


[1] Not Kindle. As we’ve discussed, Amazon’s Kindles and Kindle apps use proprietary file formats. You can convert an ePub file to Kindle formats, but you can’t open up a Kindle file and poke around inside the way we’re going to be doing here, so I won’t bother including a Kindle version of the file. However, just to repeat what I’ve pointed out before, this ePub file is the best format to upload to Amazon! (Please don’t upload this one, though — it’s mine!)

[2] Okay: you don’t have to do this to create/edit ebooks. You can in fact get at the files inside of an ebook without opening it up using applications like Sigil and Calibre. You can even look at the file structure and edit individual files in those apps. We’re doing this the old-fashioned way, however. Think of this as a high-school science lab, only instead of slicing open a frog, you’re opening up an ePub file. Much less messy!

[3] Linux users are usually pretty savvy and don’t need instructions on how to manipulate files. As for iOS and Android users… Well, opening up and editing an ebook on a tablet or phone isn’t yet terribly practical. It can be done, but it isn’t fun, so I don’t recommend it.

[4] Okay: occasionally there is another file or two — often put there to let the ereader know that there are fonts or other special files on board. But that’s advanced stuff for another day.

[5] This is necessary only for ePub2 files — however, it’s good to include one in ePub3 files, so that older ereaders can open them.

[6] But not a word-processing app like Microsoft Word! Word, etc., will turn all of the quotation marks to “curly” or “smart” quotes — which will render the files useless.

[7] Excepting media files (like images, video, and audio), scripts, fonts, or CSS files — but more on those a couple of posts from now. By the way, aside from the media files, most of the files on your computer are probably some flavor of XML (or packages of XML files).

[8] HTML is simply a form of XML that has been adapted for displaying web pages.

[9] If you’d like to know more about the workings of the OPF file, I recommend going to the IDPF.org pages for the ePub2 and ePub3 formats, or check out Liz Castro’s great nuts-and-bolts intro to ePub creation ePub: Straight and to the Point or Jared Buse’s ePub from the Ground Up, which is a bit more up-to-date, and touches more on ePub3.

[10] Screenshots taken in Sigil. The indentation and coloring should help you see what goes with what.

[11] You want fine distinctions? Images/headshot.jpg tells the ereader to look inside the folder Images inside the current folder. /Images/headshot.jpg (see the slash at the beginning?) tells the ereader to look for the Images folder in the root directory —which it is in this case, but might not be in other cases. The most common way to look for a file in a different folder? Use this syntax: ../Images/headshot.jpg. That tells the ereader to go up one folder, look for the Images folder, and then find the file headshot.jpg. Whew!

[12] I almost always optimize after I’ve imported the files — this is a major reason that I open up ePub files like this.

Image: Danboard Package Received by Louish Pixel @ flickr. Used through a Creative Commons license.


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The Ebook Retail Universe http://stillpointdigital.com/ebook-retail-universe/ http://stillpointdigital.com/ebook-retail-universe/#respond Fri, 10 Jun 2016 15:14:32 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3187 This is the sixth installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers,TheBookDesigner.com The Ebook Retail Universe I realized after my last post (looking at ebook conversion tools) that in my excitement in finally getting to the nuts and bolts of … Continue reading The Ebook Retail Universe

The post The Ebook Retail Universe appeared first on Stillpoint Digital Press.


This is the sixth installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers,TheBookDesigner.com

The Ebook Retail Universe

I realized after my last post (looking at ebook conversion tools) that in my excitement in finally getting to the nuts and bolts of ebook creation that I’d skipped over online conversion tools. Most of those tools either are directly attached to ebook retailer websites or are attached indirectly through distributors/aggregators. So I’m going to have to backtrack.


This month I’ll talk about the retailers and distributors that you are going to be interested in, and next month I’m going to talk about the conversion tools that they offer.


Cut Out the Middle Man: Top Ebook Retailers


What retails and distributors do you want to consider selling your ebooks through?


Okay. I’m assuming that you’re in the US — which isn’t a given, I know. (Most of this information is true for non-US publishers as well.)


That being the case, these are the major retailers you will probably be looking at:


These are the five largest ebook retailers in the US; most of them sell throughout the world, either directly from their own websites (Amazon, Apple, Google), or both directly as well as indirectly through affiliates (Rakuten). At this point, Barnes and Noble only sells in the US.



These are the other sites with which I usually have clients sign up for accounts. Here is a basic rundown of each (listed alphabetically):



Publishing site: http://kdp.amazon.com

File formats accepted: ePub, HTML, mobi, Word doc/docx


  1. 70% of sales price[*] if between $2.99 and $7.99. $0.15/megabyte “transport fee” deducted from each download. Available on some international sites other than Amazon.com only for KindleSelect/KindleUnlimited titles[†]
  2. 35% for any ebook between $0.99 and $199.99. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None


Amazon is the center of the self-publishing universe right now, so the Kindle Direct Publishing program is a must for ebook publishing. Depending on whom you ask, a typical publisher gets between 60% and 85% of its ebook revenue through sales on the Kindle Store.



Publishing site: http://itunesconnect.apple.com

File formats accepted: ePub, iBooks Author

Royalty: 70% of retail price. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None


According to most analysts, Apple is the second most important retail source. Sales typically make up 5% to 15% of an ebook publisher’s revenue. The downside: You can only upload to Apple’s iTunes Connect using one of two Mac-only pieces of software: iTunes Producer or iBooks Author. So if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem already, you probably want to use a distributor like Smashwords to get your ebooks up there.


Barnes and Noble

Publishing site: http://nookpress.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, HTML, RTF (rich text file), TXT (plain text)

Royalty: 65% of retail price between $0.99 and $9.99; 40% over $9.99. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None


Barnes and Noble sales typically make up 5% to 10% of an ebook publisher’s revenue.  They are struggling mightily to stay afloat as 2015 winds down.


Publishing site: https://play.google.com/books/publish

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Royalty: 52% of retail price (though they will always discount the retail price—if calculated from the discounted price, I believe they pay out ~60%). No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None


Of the five retailers listed, most publishers would list Google Play as #5, providing between 2% and 10% of total revenue. However, don’t ever count Google out. Also, the bookstore’s reach is truly global, and your books will show up on Google Books, linked to any print edition.[‡]



Publishing site: http://writinglife.kobobooks.com

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Royalty: 70% of retail price. No transport fee

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Conversion fee: None


Although Kobo’s presence in the US market is small, it’s a global giant, selling both directly (through its own ebook stores in many countries) and distributed through affiliates like the UK’s Waterstones, France’s FNAC, Japan’s Rakuten, and many others.


I’ll Get It for You Wholesale: Ebook Distributors and Aggregators


Although there are many other companies (ScribD, Overdrive, Gardners, etc.) that you probably want to make your ebook available through, most of them are either difficult or impossible to create vendor accounts with, and so it is important to use a distributor/aggregator to get your ebooks up on these other sites.


Most of aggregator/distributors will provide you with a free ISBN for your ebook. This may or may not be a good thing. That will make the distributor the publisher of record (as in, their name will show up in the publisher slot on most retail sites); also, you’re not supposed to use the ISBN except on sites to which the aggregator distributes, but you’ll want to use the same ID number for the ebook everywhere it’s for sale.


These companies will also (usually) distribute to some or all of the Big Five retailers listed above. Here are some of the distributors you want to look at (you’ll probably only work with one or at most two):

  • Aer.io
  • BookBaby
  • Draft2Digital
  • IngramSpark!
  • Lulu
  • Pronoun
  • Smashwords


There are others; these are the ones with which I have had direct experience, and which are most widely used. If you’ve had experience with other distributors, please share your experience in the comments!


These companies make their money in some combination of three ways:

  1. Cut: Frequently, they take a percentage of gross revenue (that is, they calculate the percentage based on the total sale amount and take a set percentage of that amount)
  2. Conversion/setup fee: Sometimes they charge a fee to convert your file or to “set up” the title for distribution
  3. Membership: occasionally, they charge an annual listing or membership fee


Here’s a rundown:



Publishing site: http://aer.io

File formats accepted: ePub, PDF (which can be created from Word docs on both Mac and PC by using the Print command)

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Google, Kobo, “more”

Conversion/membership fee: No conversion fee. $49/year membership fee for retail distribution; $99/year membership fee with social networking


Aer.io is primarily a tool for setting up an online ecommerce solution without the headache of setting up a store on your website. However, they also offer distribution services, and they are one of the few services that offers PDF conversion.



Publishing site: http://bookbaby.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, PDF, “other popular digital document” formats

Cut: 0%

Term: Payable monthly, forty-five days after the end of the month in which Bookbaby receives payment.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Tayor (Blio), Oyster, Flipkart, Copia, Gardners, eSentral, Scribd, Ciando, EBSCO, Vearsa

Conversion/membership fee: $299 conversion fee. No membership.


BookBaby is an almost-full-service publishing services provider — they’ll take your manuscript and, for a fee, produce it as a print book (with a professionally designed cover) and/or as an ebook. (They don’t provide editorial services in-house, however.)


What’s the difference between this kind of setup and the so-called vanity presses that prey on the unknowing? A legitimate publishing services provider offers a service for a price; they don’t purport to act as a publisher, which would imply they’ll make money by selling your books. Vanity presses will charge for services (usually top dollar) and then take a major cut of all sales revenue as well. A publisher is a publisher; a service provider is a service provider. If a company offers to do both, watch out.


BookBaby will charge $299 (if you’re going the ebook-only route),[§] but won’t take a percentage of the royalty.


Draft2Digital (D2D)

Publishing site: http://draft2digital.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc/docx, RTF — “anything Word can read”

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Inktera (Page Foundry), Scribd, Tolino, CreateSpace (Amazon print on demand)

Conversion/membership fee: $0


I haven’t worked with Draft2Digital (I mostly use Smashwords as a distributor — see below — and have used and recommend all of the other providers on this list), but I have had friends and clients who have loved them and the service they provide. They won’t distribute directly to Amazon or Google Play.



Publishing site: http://ingramspark.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 20-30% (depending on the retailer)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Tayor (Blio), Oyster, Scribd, and over sixty other retailers (but NOT Google Play)

Conversion/membership fee: $25 setup fee; $0.60/page (for PDF to ePub)


Bet you didn’t see this one coming.


IngramSpark! is one of the largest print-on-demand providers in the world — the main competitor to Amazon’s CreateSpace. But in addition to printing and distributing hardcover and paperback books, they provide ePub distribution as well.


Upside: They have (almost certainly) the largest distribution list of any aggregator. (Ingram is a pre-eminent print distributor/wholesaler, and so has direct relationships with just about every book retailer on the planet.)


Downside: They take by far the largest cut of any aggregator; they also charge to set each title up, and to convert from PDF (but not if you’ve got an ePub file ready).



Publishing site: http://lulu.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 10% of NET REVENUE (the money received by Lulu, not the sales amount; this works out to under 10% of gross revenue)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo

Conversion/membership fee: $25 setup fee; $0.60/page (for PDF to ePub)


I haven’t used Lulu for a long time, when I helped a client set up an account; like IngramSpark! they are mostly known as a print-on-demand provider. They only distribute ebooks to the major retailers — and not Google Play.



Publishing site: http://pronoun.com

File formats accepted: PDF, ePub

Cut: 10% of NET REVENUE (the money received by Lulu, not the sales amount; this works out to under 10% of gross revenue)

Term: Payable monthly, sixty days after the end of the month in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google Play

Conversion/membership fee: $0


NOTE: Still in Beta as of December, 2015. When last I used this service, it was called Vook, and I liked it, but didn’t really need it (it was a soup-to-nuts online conversion-and-distribution service provider, similar to BookBaby). Since then, the company has reinvented itself as Pronoun, a no-charge distributor/aggregator (similar to Smashwords or Draft2Digital).

NOTE2: Pronoun announced that it had been sold to Macmillan in late May, 2016. It remains unclear whether or not the site will continue in any form, and, if it does, what form that might be. 


Publishing site: http://smashwords.com

File formats accepted: ePub, Word doc (not docx)

Cut: 10%

Term: Payable quarterly, fifteen to thirty days after the end of the quarter in which the sale occurred.

Distribution: Amazon,[**] Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Baker & Taylor (Blio), txtr, Axis360 (libraries), Overdrive (libraries), Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Gardners retail, Gardners Library, Yuzu, Tolino, Odilo

Conversion/membership fee: $0


This is the distributor I’ve used the most — for a number of reasons. First of all, for a no-charge aggregator, their distribution list is more than acceptable. Overdrive and Gardners Library (the largest library ebook distributors in North America and the UK) are particularly nice additions. Second, the service is great — when I’ve had a problem, they’ve been incredibly helpful. Third, they are also a retailer themselves — a small retailer, but hey, any outlet that buys you lunch once or twice a month is nice!


Downside? The user interface isn’t as slick as some others, and the ebook conversion engine (their famous Meatgrinder) isn’t my favorite. (A spoiler for next month — none of the online conversion tools win this category as far as I’m concerned. But I’m picky!)


[*] In other words, if you put the book on sale — unless through a KindleSelect promotion — and Amazon lowers the price (i.e., to match another retailer’s sales price), they pay you not based on the full price, but on the actual transaction price. That? That’s NOT AGENCY PRICING. That’s what the big publishers have been screaming about for years. Amazon lowers your book’s price; you get paid on the discounted price, not on the price you set.

[†] KindleSelect is the 90-day program that makes your title available through KindleUnlimited and the Kindle Owners Lender Library. To participate, the title must be available only through Amazon during the 90-day period.

[‡] Whether or not you think that’s a good thing is up to you. It does improve discoverability, however.

[§] And will charge this fee every time you wish to revise your book.

[**] Okay, not really — Amazon has only taken a couple of hundred of Smashwords’s offerings; it makes sense to distribute to Amazon directly anyway.

Image: India Calcutta Bookstore by Carl Parkes. Used through a Creative Commons License


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Free for all: giving your ebook away on Amazon http://stillpointdigital.com/free-giving-ebook-away-amazon/ http://stillpointdigital.com/free-giving-ebook-away-amazon/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 15:11:08 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3183 “Selling” for free I had a client ask me recently why you can’t price an ebook as free on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. The author wanted to promote her first book by giving it away — she’d been told that was the best way to make a splash. I told her that you CAN … Continue reading Free for all: giving your ebook away on Amazon

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“Selling” for free

I had a client ask me recently why you can’t price an ebook as free on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. The author wanted to promote her first book by giving it away — she’d been told that was the best way to make a splash.

I told her that you CAN “sell” your ebook for free on Kindle Direct Publishing — they just don’t make it easy. And it often isn’t a good idea.

Why don’t Amazon make it simple to set the price of a KDP ebook to $0.00?

Two reasons:

  1. It would make them no money
  2. It would take away one of the (rapidly diminishing) benefits of participating in the Kindle Select program, which allows publishers to market their ebook by having limited-time freebie giveaways (as well as “countdown” sales, advertising, and a few other perks)

How to get Amazon to give your ebook away

In order to make your ebook “perma-free,” you need to be selling it at one of the other major retailers — Apple, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble, for choice — that does allow you to price an ebook at $0.00. Then you may need to inform Amazon by going to your ebook’s Kindle Store page (the one on the front end of the store that buyers see), and click on the “Tell us about a lower price” link just below the book’s rankings. Share a link to the free ebook on the other site, tell Amazon the price at that site is $0.00,  and you should be good to go. You can also try using the “Contact Us” link on your Author Central page.  (You do have an Author Central page, right?)

Sometimes, Amazon will pick up on the price drop all on their own and match it. And sometimes they play dumb and don’t want to hear about it — you may need to tell them more than once, or you may need to get someone else to inform them.

A word of warning: while free ebooks were all the rage a few years back, they seem to be much less effective as a way of marketing yourself or your book now. Amazon maintains separate rankings for paid and for free ebooks, so any boost you get by giving your ebook away will evaporate if you start charging for it again. Also, separate populations of buyers have congealed — folks who “buy” free ebooks (or download pirated copies) are much less likely to pay for them, so you’re not really marketing to the segment of your audience who might actually make you money. Which is kind of what most of us want.

Reasons why you might want to go ahead and offer your ebook for free anyway:

  • You’re looking for reviews (folks who download the free version from the Kindle Store should still be marked as “verified buyers,” which makes their review more credible)
  • The title is the first in a series; by giving it away you’re marketing the other books (this is what’s known in retail as a loss leader — just make sure to include links and blurbs at the back of the ebook to make as easy as possible to buy the next title in the series)
  • You’re publishing the ebook not for the sales, but to establish yourself as an expert in a field (to promote your services or your speaking appearances, for example)

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Jump in the Convertible: Ebook Conversion Tools http://stillpointdigital.com/jump-in-the-convertible-ebook-conversion-tools/ http://stillpointdigital.com/jump-in-the-convertible-ebook-conversion-tools/#respond Fri, 19 Feb 2016 15:45:40 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3136 This is the fifth installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers,TheBookDesigner.com Over the last few months I’ve discussed preparing your manuscript and your images for conversion into ebook form. This month, I’m going to look more closely at a … Continue reading Jump in the Convertible: Ebook Conversion Tools

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This is the fifth installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers,TheBookDesigner.com

Over the last few months I’ve discussed preparing your manuscript and your images for conversion into ebook form. This month, I’m going to look more closely at a subject that I’ve touched on: choosing an ebook conversion tool. Just to review, I suggested that there were four basic ways to convert your manuscript into ebook format:

  1. From scratch
  2. Saving from a word-processing or page-layout application into ePub format
  3. Using a conversion app or online service
  4. Hiring a designer

We’re going to ignore option #1 — if you’re the kind of person who wants to dig that deep into the guts of ebook creation, I don’t think that you’re going to be patient with this process. I’m not going to dwell on option #4 (or the second half of option #3), since the emphasis of this series is how to create your own ebooks. Using a conversion service or ebook designer is always an option, and I’ll discuss later how to choose one. But for now, we’re going to look at choosing the software that you can use to create a book yourself. Here’s the list of software that I will look through with you: .[1]

  • Apache’s OpenOffice has a plug-in called Writer2ePub that allows you to save files as ebooks (open source office suite)
  • Scrivener (commercial writing app)
  • Apple’s Pages for OS X or iOS (consumer word-processing/page-layout app)
  • Adobe’s InDesign (professional page-layout app)
  • QuarkXpress (professional page-layout app)
  • Jutoh (ebook design and creation app)
  • iBooks Author (fixed-format ebook design app)
  • Calibre (ebook library app with file-editing utility)
  • Sigil (dedicated ePub file editor)

I’ll also talk briefly about the possibility of using one of these tools for conversion to the ePub ebook file, and then a text editor or web-design app to do any post-conversion editing.

For each app, I’m going to start with a formatted Word document from a book that I’m working on (my own novel Risuko, actually). Here’s the chapter head that we’re going to be looking at a lot:

The Music Lesson screenshot 1

I chose this file because it had just enough complexity to test these conversion tools, but not so much that it will break all of them. The fonts are part of what makes this file challenging; the drop cap at the beginning of the first paragraph is another part.

The manuscript has been prepared in the manner that I suggested in an earlier post; all of the styles are applied globally, and had names applied in Word’s Styles palette. The style for the chapter header above is called “Chapter-Head”; the first paragraph with the drop cap is called “Body-First.” Italics and boldface are applied simply with Word’s keyboard formatting (command-I and command-B on my Mac). The “Body-First” style has a built-in drop-cap rule — I didn’t have to style those letters separately, but simply added the “Body-First” style to the first body paragraph in each chapter.

Writer’s Tools

The first three apps all fall into the category of word-processing/writing tools.

OpenOffice logo

OpenOffice (free)

is an open-source office suite program. OpenOffice opens and edits just about every kind of every-day file that you can think of, and it can save into a number of file formats, including Word docs (.doc and .docx). Versions will run on just about every kind of computer you can think of.

Writer2ePub is a plugin that allows you to save your word-processing file into ePub format. You add the plugin in OpenOffice by using the Extension Manager from the Tools menu. Once the plugin is installed, you’ll get a floating palette that allows you access to the ePub tools:

OpenOffice screenshot1

This file was imported from a PDF rather than a Word doc. Nice!

That green E is the ePub logo, by the way. You have to save your file in OpenOffice’s native ODT format. Once you’ve done that, you can click on those buttons. The right-hand button opens the preference panel. The center button allows you to edit the ebook metadata, adding the title, author, cover image, etc. to the file.

The most important button for our purposes is the one on the left. You can export quickly, but unless you add “w2e_” to the beginning of every one of your text style names, they won’t export. This will leave all of your text unformatted.

If you do add the tag at the beginning of the style names, however, the ePub file that Word2ePub exports will do an okay job of converting the styles you specified:

OpenOffice screenshot2

And the HTML won’t have a lot of extra coding added. (We’ll see why that’s a problem soon enough.)

Scrivener logo

Scrivener ($45)

is a Swiss Army Knife of writer’s tools. It gives an author a single place to gather research, images, notes, outtakes — all in one file. It imports a wide variety of files — including the standard DOC, DOCX, and RTF word processing files. Scrivener doesn’t handle fancy text formatting, like the drop capital at the beginning of the chapter:

Scrivener screenshot1

Still, Scrivener does a wonderful job of getting everything where you want it, and it exports to the ePub format.

The Scrivener conversion feature is very fully featured. On Scrivener, the process is called “compiling,” since you can export multiple files into a single ebook— chapters, say. There’s a whole battery of compilation options, including metadata:

Scrivener screenshot2

There’s a way of adding a cover, a way of converting a table to an image so that it doesn’t break your ebook (another topic for another day!), and a lot more.

There’s also a wildly complicated formatting panel that actually gives you relatively little control over how text is going to look when it exports. There are a number of check boxes and options, but you don’t apply it with the text in front of you, you apply it in the Compile dialog box:

Scrivener screenshot3

It will export italics and boldface, and will handle chapter heads and such, but it won’t allow you to create, for example, a special style for a quoted poem or a sidebar or whatever.

Not wanting to recreate all of my styling, I selected all of my text and applied Preserve Formatting to my entire manuscript. This is what it produced:

Scrivener screenshot4

Not very good.

And it applied its own local format names to each paragraph (i.e., “p16” instead of “Body-Text”), but at least it applied the same name to all paragraphs in the same style — “p16” equals “Body-Text” throughout.

If I hadn’t already committed to formatting the text in Word, Scrivener wouldn’t have given me many tools to apply consistent, attractive styling to the exported ePub file. I can add the formatting later using CSS styling rules — but if I hadn’t already given the paragraphs styles in Word (before importing into Scrivener), I’d have had to start from scratch.

Apple Pages logo x200

Apple Pages (Mac OS X: $19.99 | iOS: $9.99)

is Apple’s answer to Word (for both Macs and iOS devices)— and it does most of the things Word does, plus some. It’s a serviceable piece of page layout software, though no one would confuse it with professional tools like InDesign or Quark. Of course, it’s only available on Apple devices. Still, it’s a nice piece of software.

Like the other apps, it can open a Word doc or RTF file natively. Alas, once again, I couldn’t get it to handle drop caps:

Apple pages screenshot1

The style names, however, came through perfectly.

The export function is simple — go to the File menu, select Export ->ePub, and you’ll get a straightforward dialog box that offers you the opportunity to add a few bits of metadata — title, author, category.[2]

The exported ePub file was divided up by chapters, which was nice, and retained much of its formatting:

Apple pages screenshot2

The style names were once again changed — paragraphs now have names like “s12” while local character changes have styles named “c9” and such. That’s not a problem

The style names are not consistent, however, and this is a problem.

Rather than add <i> for italics, for example, Pages created <span> tags — the span tag that Pages created for italics seems to be <span class=”c15” > — most of the time.[3] If the paragraph is in a different style (e.g., “Body-Text” instead of “Body-First”), then the character style is different as well. What this means is that I can’t globally change the style all of the italics or boldface characters — or those drop-capped initial letters. For those initial letters, for example, different instances are given different style names (“c14,” “c23,” “c28,” etc.) even though these were all styled identically, with the same paragraph style in Word.

This means that any changes that I make to style will apply only to that style on that page— it won’t apply throughout the document. Once again, this is not good.

All of these writers’ tools can export an ePub file. But none of them will export one that you’d want to sell — not without further cleaning up.

Page Layout Tools

Quark ExpressInDesign

The next section is a shorter one, dedicated to professional-grade print layout software, and field that’s dominated by Adobe’sInDesign (part of the Creative Cloud suite: $19.99/month) , with Quark ($849) continuing to hold its own.

These apps are intended for designing books, magazines, and other paper-and-ink documents, and they’re very sophisticated. You can control the placement and style of every letter on every page of a book, and you can work with a team of designers to create beautiful works of the printer’s art.

Both Quark and InDesign have had ebook export functions for some time, but until a couple of years ago, they were pretty awful — certainly no better than what we just saw from the consumer-level writing apps.

Recently, the ebook authoring capabilities of Quark and InDesign have gotten to the point where they’re actually useful — but the ebooks that they produce still aren’t quite usable out of the box (especially for more complicated formatting).

Both apps offer a huge amount of control over how styles export. InDesign allows you to say what HTML tag and class you’d like slapped on a particular style on export, and whether you want a page break before it. It allows you to leave in fine adjustments that you’ve made for the print edition or ignore them (usually the right idea). It can export ePub2 or the shinier (though not universally adopted) ePub3 format, can export a fixed-format ebook, and allows you to add custom CSS — style instructions — on the export. It even allows you to add JavaScript files.

Here’s the ePub file created by InDesign CC 2015:

InDesign screenshot1

You’ll notice, of course, that the fonts aren’t great. This is in part because Adobe is in the business of licensing fonts, and is very careful about what it adds where. The fonts are embedded in the ebook file, but they’re encrypted so that no one can go into the file and steal them. That’s great, but if I try to upload this file to Amazon or Apple, it will be rejected.

Still, the drop caps are perfect, and the formatting looks, for the most part, nice. When I look at the code, there’s some of the same silliness with renaming — but nowhere nearly as much. Again, italics show up as — this time, that’s fairly consistent, though, so I don’t have to go searching all over for variations — CharOverride-10 = italic, so if I want to change the styling of all the italics for some reason, I can change it in one place.

So, the files that the professional software exports are great — but still need to be futzed with.

Ebook Design Software

This is our third category, and it’s the software that does the futzing: software that is designed specifically for creating ebooks.

Jutoh logo

Jutoh ($39)

Jutoh is intended to be a page-layout app with a focus on digital distribution: format the file once and export it to a wide variety of formats. Jutoh can import Word docs, OpenOffice ODT files, HTML, and even ePub files. (The styling for ePub and HTML doesn’t all import, however.)

It can export into ePub2 and ePub3 formats, as well as mobi (Kindle) files, ODT files that can be used to create a PDF, and even a text-to-speech engine that will create a computer read-aloud track.

Like Scrivener, Jutoh allows you to pull together all of the files that you need to create the book into a single package.

You have to create a project — you can then import your manuscript:

Jutoh screenshot1

Like Pages, the formatting mostly looks good, but once again, drop caps aren’t supported.

As with every other app so far, Jutoh allows you to edit and format the text, add and move images, and do a lot of the other prep work.

The exported file is clean:

Jutoh screenshot2

The fonts once again don’t export. However, all of the global styles are intact — and italics are given simple <i> tags. So adding a customized style is simply a matter of creating (or adding) a CSS stylesheet that makes the files look the way we want them to.

iBooks Author logo x200

iBooks Author

When I first started this series, Apple’s iBooks Author (free)wasn’t a viable ebook editing app. It could only create fixed-format ebooks, and could only export directly to Apple’s iBooks Store.

Since then, Apple announced that iBooks Author would both import and export reflowable ePub files, and so it became possible to consider this app as an ebook editing tool.

Like most Apple products, iBooks Author is beautiful. It takes the interface from Pages and adds some unparalleled tools for ebook authoring. There’s no easier app for adding widgets — small, self-contained chunks of code that add very non-book-like functions to an ebook, whether that’s an internet video, a quiz, or custom HTML or JavaScript. Adding enhancements like embedded video or audio is a breeze. It’s a great tool for creating beautifully designed fixed-layout books — children’s picture books, for example, or cookbooks, or textbooks that require a particular relationship between the text and the images and other media. .[4]

On importing my Word file, iBooks Author did a nice job of maintaining the text style:

iBooks Author screenshot1

The downside? Like Pages, there are some text styles (here, our old friend drop caps) that can’t work. The app expects each chapter to be loaded separately, or all of the chapters in the Word doc will be listed as sections in a single “chapter.”

The exported file does a pretty good job of reproducing what made it through import:

iBooks Author screenshot2

That could almost be the same screenshot, except for the line-height of the first paragraph — look at the space between the first two lines.

When I look under the hood of the reflowable ePub file that iBooks Author creates, there are plusses and minuses.

First of all, iBooks Author doesn’t export in the older, more widely adopted ePub2 format, but only into Apple’s version of the more feature-rich ePub3 format. The app adds a few non-standard files that (while perfectly valid) may keep the file from passing validation when you upload it to some retailers’ sites: while I was able to upload the un-edited ePub file to Apple, Kobo, and Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords both rejected the file.

Also, not surprisingly, the same style name changes that made Pages a problem pop up again in the file created by iBooks Author. So making global styling changes won’t be easy.

While I’m very excited about the opportunity to use iBooks Author as a single tool to create fixed-format ebooks for the three major retailers that accept them (Apple, Kobo, and Amazon), I’m less sanguine about using the app to create reflowable ebooks — unless I’m creating a separate version for use on B&N, Smashwords, and the rest.

Calibre logo

Calibre (free)

Calibre was created not for ebook designers but for ebook readers. Think of it as iTunes for ebooks — the open-source ebook library app can download ebooks directly from many retailers, can sync with a number of ereader devices, and can organize your ebook library in a number of ways that make it much easier to find the book you’re looking for. And like iTunes, Calibre has the ability to convert between one ebook format and another: between ePub and mobi (old Kindle) or AZW3 (newer Kindle), say, or between LIT format files and ePub, so that you can read that old Microsoft Reader book on the iBooks app of your iPad or Mac. It can also convert between Word DOCX files[5] and ePub or any of a number of other digital text formats.

That conversion ability made Calibre a very handy for ebook designers as well, and so an ePub-editing utility was added a couple of years back. Together, they make Calibre the one app that allows you to go all of the way from importing a Word doc to converting the file to ePub to cleaning up the file that results.

Opening the conversion dialog once again gives us the chance to add metadata. It also gives a bewildering range of settings with which to fine-tune the conversion. (If you’re interested in mastering those settings, visit Calibre’s excellent help pages.)

Using the base settings, which are often pretty good, I got great results:

Calibre screenshot1

Notice that the initial drop cap imported properly, and that (most of) the fonts are intact — and in fact were embedded within the ebook file. The numbers dropped their font, but that’s not a big deal.

Unfortunately, the underlying styling got rewritten once again. Instead of every paragraph containing a drop cap having the same style name (“Body-First” in the Word doc), each <p>(paragraph) tag is given a different class (style) name (“block_33,” “block_39,” etc.). On the other hand, the styling for the drop cap itself seems to have been given a consistent class name throughout, so if I wanted to make the drop caps bigger or turn them red, I could do that by changing a single CSS rule.

Most of the “Body-Text” paragraphs are given the same class name, “block_19,” but I’d have to go through the whole ebook to make sure that were true. .[6] Standard formatting like italics and boldface are given standard HTML tags (<i> and <b> ), which is nice.

In terms of editing and validating ePub files, Calibre’s editing utility has a pretty good set of features; it’s also extensible through a number of plugins. If you know the Python programming language, you can even write a plug-in yourself! The main editing window shows the raw HTML, but there is a preview window open to the right that allows you to see how the changes you are making to the code affect the way that the ebook displays. Another window shows what CSS rules are in effect in a particular chunk of text, which helps figure out why those letters are displaying orange, for example. (Oops! Forgot to change the rule back after I searched for all of those class names!) You can also open and edit the CSS stylesheets and the specialized XML documents that are embedded in every ePub file, .[7]

The community that supports Calibre is very active, and so new features and fixes are being added every few weeks. Support is terrific — when I’ve been stumped by what appeared to me to be a bug in the conversion software, I got multiple responses within hours; when the problem turned out in fact to be a bug, a fix was posted within a week.

Sigil logo

Sigil (free)

Sigil is the tool that I use most often for ebook editing, more than Calibre or an HTML editor like Dreamweaver. This is for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve been using it for a long time (since 2011 — a lifetime in ebook development terms.)
  2. It can open ePub files directly, rather than having to import it into a library (as Calibre does) or unZIP them (as editing in an HTML editor requires) and then re-ZIP when finished.
  3. I can view the formatted text in the preview window, as in Calibre, or I can switch the main window to “Book View” and edit the file in WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) mode — I don’t have to look at the HTML unless I want to.
  4. It’s use of Regular Expressions (a.k.a. RegEx, GREP, or wildcard searches) is more powerful and more familiar to me than Calibre’s, which allows me to make mass changes quickly.
  5. Have I mentioned that I’ve used Sigil for a long time?

Like Calibre, Sigil is open source; unlike Calibre, which has a huge community of consumers who use it just for its library functions, Sigil is aimed at designers only, and so it has occasionally gone through periods when development has essentially stopped.

However, Sigil development has been steady for the past couple of years, including the addition of Calibre-like plugins that add all sorts of nifty functions, from in-app validation to importing Kindle files to converting the file into ePub3 format. .[8]

The main disadvantage to Sigil as an ebook authoring tool is that it will only import valid HTML files. .[9] It’s the first piece of software we’ve looked at that won’t directly open or import the DOCX file we’ve been using. You can copy and paste from a Word or other document, and much of the formatting will (probably) translate over. However, for a complex file (like the one we’re using to test against), you’re going to have to convert the file into a format that Sigil is happy with.

Unfortunately, Word’s Save to Web command won’t create an HTML file that Sigil will import — Microsoft’s HTML conversion is notoriously idiosyncratic and results in incredibly bloated code that’s optimized for Internet Explorer — a browser even Microsoft no longer supports.

There are, however, a number of ways to get the manuscript into the format we can work with:

  • Use one of the apps above to convert the file into ePub format. (I frequently use InDesign, since I’m also working with a print document, but I’ve also used each of the others.)
  • Use a utility to convert the file into valid XHTML.[10]
  • Convert the document, and then copy and paste the code, rather than using the import function.

Any of those routes has disadvantages. However, for the purposes of this exercise, I opened the file that had been created by Jutoh, since it was the one that was the least problematic. Remember, this is what it looked like:

Sigil screenshot1

I played with the CSS for about ten minutes and this is what I got (not just in this chapter, but throughout the ebook):

Sigil screenshot2

Not bad! I’d probably play with the color, and the spacing between the chapter head and the body paragraphs is too large, but certainly a lot closer to what I was looking for.

Sigil, then, is a great tool for getting under the hood of your ebook and editing it intact. It’s got some quirks, it’s definitely not aimed at consumers (Autosave? We laugh at your autosave!), and its most powerful features take a while to learn how to use, but it’s the only app designed just for the purpose of editing ePub files. .[11]

Now, as I mentioned in the first post in this series, an ePub file is simply a (very carefully constructed) ZIP archive with a different extension (the three or four letters at the end of the file name). Change the extension to ZIP, double-click the archive, and you’ll get a folder full of all of the things in your ebook: XHTML files, image and other media files, stylesheets, and all of those exotic XML files that I talked about above.

The fun part is that you can use Dreamweaver or another HTML or text editor to edit those XHTML files. It will give you basically the same power to edit every part of the ebook. If you’re using Dreamweaver or another app with HTML previewing, you can see the edits effects as you make them, just like in Sigil. If you’re using a bare-bones text editor, you can load the ebook file into a web browser and it will display just fine — most ereaders are based on web browsers. (Apple’s iBooks, for example, is a specialized version of Mobile Safari.) Finish the editing and ZIP the directory back up, change the extension back to ePub, and you should be all set.[12]


[1]There are more tools out there — but these are the most commonly used and recommended ones. If you have a favorite tool and I haven’t mentioned it, please leave a comment!

[2]You can export an ePub file from a Pages doc on your iPad or iPhone as well, and then open it straight in iBooks. Never tried it on an Apple Watch, but I suppose that might work too.

[3]If the sight of HTML makes you break out in hives…. Well, I’ll be giving a quick lesson in HTML tags and CSS styles over the next few months.

[4]Amazon’s Kid’s Book Creator and Kindle Comic Creator have some of the same features, but where those will only allow you to create books for the Kindle, iBooks Author now has the ability to create ebooks that will work on Apple products, but also Kobos and — in theory — the newer Kindles at which the Amazon software is aimed.

[5]Though not DOC files; DOCX are based on XML, which is the file structure underlying HTML and many other modern file formats, while DOC files use a propriet

[6]Easy way to do this? Change the color of the “Body-Text”/”block_19” style to orange or something equally garish, and look for body paragraphs that didn’t change color.

[7]For example the OPF “manifest” flle that tells ereaders what is in the ebook and where to find it within the ebook’s internal structure; and the NCX file in ePub2 and some ePub3 files that give ereaders the navigation/table of contents info. I’ll talk about those — but not too much — in coming months.

[8] Neither Sigil nor Calibre is yet fully set up for ePub3, though they are both moving in that direction, and you can edit ePub3 files, even if not all of the features work properly.

[9]Strictly speaking, valid XHTML files.

[10]I use Apple’s TextEdit. Here are directions from Jane Friedman. The important thing is that the exported file be valid XHTML 1.1 — if your utility knows how to save a file in that format, you’re all set.

[11]In case you’re wondering: there isn’t really a tool for directly editing mobi files. That’s one of many reasons that I start with ePub and convert to Kindle formats later.

[12]If you’re using a Mac, you’ll need to use a utility like ePub ZIP/UnZIP for Mac.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com.

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In the Picture: Prepping Images for Your Ebook http://stillpointdigital.com/prepping-ebook-images/ http://stillpointdigital.com/prepping-ebook-images/#respond Fri, 08 Jan 2016 15:03:16 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3109 Last month I discussed how to clean up your manuscript to prepare it for ebook conversion. This time I’m going to be looking at how to do the same thing with images.[1] There’s one big difference, however: where the advice that I gave you about getting your text squeaky clean was equally valid for preparing … Continue reading In the Picture: Prepping Images for Your Ebook

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Last month I discussed how to clean up your manuscript to prepare it for ebook conversion. This time I’m going to be looking at how to do the same thing with images.[1]

There’s one big difference, however: where the advice that I gave you about getting your text squeaky clean was equally valid for preparing to convert your words to either print or ebook format, these suggestions are ebook-only.

What’s the difference?

Well, in either case, you’re going to start by finding the perfect picture to go with your words. You’re going to crop the picture (cutting out any extraneous bits) and enhance it (or get someone who knows how to do so) so that it looks beautiful.

However, there are two enormous differences between the image files you want to use in an ebook and ones you’re going to get printed on paper:

  1. In a print book, color is expensive, while in an ebook beautiful color costs (essentially) the same as black and white.
  2. On the other hand, in print, you want the image file that goes off to the printer to be as high quality (that is to say, large) as possible, while in an ebook, every kilobyte costs you (I’ll explain how below).


Use color — please!

As someone who’s been around the publishing industry for a while, this concept was one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around when I first started creating ebooks: that using color wasn’t verboten.

As you probably know, printing a book using even a single color image often more than doubles the production cost of the book. Why? Well, you know that your desktop printer has four colors of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CYMK). And unless you tell it not to, it will print every page — even one with only black letters — using all four inks.

A professional offset printing press is essentially the same, though with the ability to use many more (or fewer) colors if needed.[2] A commercial print-on-demand press is exactly like your inkjet — except it’s built to work with much higher volume and with much more consistency.

So unless you do something really special (and expensive) like getting the printer to insert a single plate by hand into each book before it is bound, you’re going to be printing the entire book in full CYMK+ color. Ouch!

With ebooks, none of that is an issue at all! Many dedicated ereaders and all ereader apps used on computers, tablets, or smart phones display in three colors (red, green, and blue — RGB). There is no black pixel! And if you remember your high school science, white light is made up by shining all three colors at once. So color is (in most cases) the default. Why not take advantage of that?

Okay, so some Kindles and other ereader devices use an eInk screen that’s not in living color. These devices’ screens use much less energy, and many people find them easier to read, so there will be folks who will be viewing your beautiful, fully saturated snapshot as if it were being displayed on a 1984 Macintosh. As with those trailblazing computers, the eInk devices are still capable of displaying your picture beautifully — just not in color.


So one word of warning: do make sure that you look at every image in both color and grayscale before you convert it. A picture that looks crisp and clear in brilliant color can lose its contrast when seen in black and white.

Also, make sure that it’s saved as an RGB (screen) image, not a CYMK (print) image.

Stepping on the scale

What ebooks give us in color, they take away in file size. When you send an image off to a printer or print designer, the idea is to send it at the highest possible quality, in a lossless format like TIFF (Tagged Image File Format, if you care). The print files for my 36-page illustrated children’s book The Seven Gods of Luck weigh in at a healthy 128 megabytes (MB).

Many ebook retailers won’t even allow you to upload a file larger than 20MB. And even with those that do, such as Apple, you need to consider how many of your readers will be accessing your masterpiece: on a wireless device, where download speeds are slow, and empty space is taken up by cat videos and audio recordings of a niece’s singing recital. Nothing frustrates a reader more than buying your book — but not being able to download it.

On top of that, our favorite elephant in the room, Amazon, deducts fifteen cents per megabyte from every royalty payment as a “transport fee.”[4] (I always imagine a group of burly truckers carrying floppy disks with your ebook on them from a storage locker to the download bay on the other side of Jeff Bezos’s kingdom.)

So for a 20MB book, that would be $3.00. If you’re charging $9.99 (a high price by indie-published ebook standards), you’ve just lowered your royalty from 70% to 40%. If you’re charging less, the damage is even worse.

What can we do to avoid this catastrophe? What is the cause of all of this bloat?

Well, you’ll need to trust me on this: it isn’t your words. If you don’t believe me, look at this picture of the innards of an ebook:

These are the files that make up the text portion of an average-sized book (Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By; my paperback copy is 288 pages). See those numbers in the third column, the column headed size? They range from under a kilobyte to 21KB — the total, including the front and back matter, is 104KB, or just over a tenth of a megabyte.

If you were to buy the ePub file of this ebook, you’d see that the file is actually somewhere around 4.2MB.

So where did the other 4.1MB come from?

A few kilobytes of it can be found in the stylesheets, navigation files, and such.

But most of it came from the ninety-odd lovely pictures that I added when I was creating the ebook edition.[5]

Ouch. That’s sixty cents off the top of every Amazon sale. But the images were integral to the new edition, the first put out by the Joseph Campbell Foundation. So in they stayed.

So what’s a body supposed to do?

Taking a byte out of file size

Before we start our pictures on their weight-loss program, I need to explain something about images in ebook files: they have to be either JPEG or PNG (portable network graphics) files. No bitmap (.bmp) files, no vector (.eps or .ai) files,[6] no Photoshop (.psd) files, no raw camera (RAW or Exif) files. Just .jpg and .png files.

This turns out to be a good thing, because these two formats allow the most control over the final size of your image file.

We’re almost ready to start working with the images — but remember: never work with the original file. Always work with a copy, so that if something goes horribly wrong, all you’ve lost is a little time. Rename your working files. Put them in a different folder. On a different computer. In a different city. (And make sure that there’s a backup of the…. Oh, you know the drill.)

One of the most important, most technical jobs involved in designing an ebook is massaging the images so that they don’t take up too much space, but at the same time still display beautifully.

There are three parts to making that happen:

  1. Sizing (making sure that the height and width of the image are in the right range of pixels)
  2. Compression (using software to make the file as small as possible without losing quality)
  3. Optimization (getting rid of some unnecessary bloat that your image carries around with it needlessly)



The easiest way to decrease the file size of your image is to decrease the number of pixels — in other words, simply making the picture smaller.

At this point most phones (let alone dedicated cameras) are capable of taking pictures over 10 megapixels — that is, ten million little collections of red, green, and blue dots. The native dimensions of a picture taken on an iPhone 5s like mine is 3264×2448 pixels.

Guess what?

Even an high-resolution Retina iPad can’t squeeze that many pixels onto its screen. Neither can a Retina MacBook 15”.

So, I ask, why include pixels that will never actually be seen by anyone not reading your ebook on a super-high-definition 30” computer monitor?

In this next section I’m going to assume that you’re used to working with a basic image editing program like PhotoScape, GIMP, or Apple Preview — if you can find your way around Adobe Photoshop (even an old version), this should be easy.

So. Open the file.

Wait — you aren’t going to work with the original image, are you? Good. Just checking.

In your app, find the menu item to resize the picture. In Photoshop, it’s under the Image menu: Image Size… In Preview, it’s under the Tools menu. In PhotoScape, click the Resize Photo button at the bottom of the window.

You’ll be shown a box that looks something like this (from PhotoScape):

You’ll see the existing width and height (in pixels, inches, centimeters, or whatever), with a box next to it to fill in a new measurement. Somewhere there will be something like that little check box in the picture above that reads “Preserve aspect ratio”; this will keep the height and width of the image proportional. Which is, usually, a good thing.

So what size should you set your image to?

It depends on a number of criteria:

  • How important is the fine detail of the image?
  • How many total images are there in the book?
  • Are the pictures primary, or are they secondary to the text?
  • How sharp is the image to begin with?
  • Is the image a photograph, a painting, or line art?

If the ebook is a picture book or a collection of photographs that you expect readers to examine closely, then by all means, keep the image as close to full-sized as you can. Still, there’s no point in making the image bigger than can be viewed on the device.

The short side on the largest current tablet screens (including the iPad and Kindle Fire HDX) is around 1600 pixels.

If you’re trying to keep your image as large as possible, then set the short side of your image to that size.

If, on the other hand, your picture is more decorative or illustrative than central, you might consider setting that short-side size to something closer to a standard smart phone or ereader width — between 600 and 800 pixels.

Click the “OK” button.

Suddenly, your picture will look tiny on screen. Don’t worry — you can zoom in to see it as it really is. Make sure that you don’t see any “jaggies” (ragged, pixelated lines instead of smooth, flowing ones), and that the important detail is all still visible. If you aren’t happy with the size you chose, go up to the Edit menu and select Undo — then try it again, until you’re happy.

Another way to decrease your file size by a whopping 25%? If your file is still in CYMK color (intended for use on a printer), convert it to RGB (intended for display on a screen). There are no black pixels, remember? In Photoshop’s Image menu, select Mode>RGB, and watch those kilobytes drain away.


Once you’re happy, you’re going to save the file, and when you do, you’re going to apply software compression — basically squeezing out the unneeded detail from the image, with the emphasis on unneeded.

At this point, I almost always save files in the JPEG format, since it is very, very good at compressing images.

We’re going to go up to the File menu and select Save As… (in Mac OS X Yosemite, they changed the label to “duplicate” for some reason). You’ll be confronted with a dialog box that looks something like this :

See that slider labeled “Quality”? That’s going to do the magic for us.

How much should you compress the image? As much as you can without compromising the quality of the image. Unfortunately, that scale isn’t calibrated uniformly — different software uses different compression algorithms at different settings. So you’re going to need to play it by ear.

I started out being very conservative in compressing images — close to the right-hand, “Best” side of the slider. At this point, I am often extremely aggressive, around the second tick mark from the left. If I’ve got multiple images in the book, I aim for each to be under 50KB, if I can help it. If this is the only, or one of the few images, I shoot for a file size in the 100–150KB range.

I then type in a new name — so that I still have the previous version, if I want to go back. Generally, I take the width that I choose in step 1 and add that at the end of the file name (that’s the  -800 in the file name above)  oh, and I take out any spaces and replace them with hyphens or dashes, since ePub doesn’t like spaces in file names.

Then open the new photo — if it isn’t opened automatically — and see what the compression gods have wrought. Look for lines of gradation in smooth color bands (posterization), or jaggies. See if the detail in the image is still acceptable.

If not, or if the file is still too big, go back to the previous version (this is why you saved it!) and start again.[7]


Now we get into some real black magic. Sort of.

Each image carries in it a bunch of metadata — information about when and how the picture was taken, the camera, the date and time, maybe the geolocation. If you’re trying to put together a slide show, this sort of information can be invaluable.

Locked inside of an ebook, it’s useless. And it can add as much as 20KB to an image.

There are several ways to strip this last bit of dead weight away. I use an open source (aka freeware) utility app called ImageOptim that gets rid of the metadata, as well as some other crud, without further compressing the file — Mac only, I’m afraid.

In Windows, however, you can simply right click on the image file in Windows Explorer, click on the Properties tab, and then select the link at the bottom of the tab that reads “Remove Properties and Personal Information.” That should help — and it ought to slim down the file at least a bit.

If you’re a Linux user, you can use the command line utility JPEGRescan (one of the ones on which ImageOptim is based).

Once you’ve gone through the whole process with each of your images (including the cover art), you’ll be ready to start making your ebook!

[1] Note that I’m not going to be talking about choosing images to accompany the text. I’m going to assume that you’ve spent a lot of time finding the perfect pictures to illustrate what you’re saying — and that you’ve made absolutely sure that you have the right to include them in your book.

[2] Okay. There are many more differences between a home printer and a large web press. Work with me here.

[3] Image: Kindle vs. iPad by Zhao ! (@flickr.com) used through a Creative Commons license.

[4] This $0.15/MB fee applies only if you’re using the Kindle Direct Publishing 70% royalty rate, which you can choose for ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Go with the other option and you can charge whatever you’d like (well, $0.99–$199.99), and you won’t get charged a fee — but you’ll only make 35%.

[5] And that’s 4.1MB after I did all of the things I’m about to tell you to do. When I first converted the book, the Images folder was a bit under 14MB. And that’s not including another 15MB of lovely but ultimately unusable video. By the way, the 1MB that shows up attached to the Images folder? I forgot when I took this screenshot that I’d partially emptied the folder.

[6] You can, in theory, use Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files to do all sorts of nifty things in ebooks — but it’s a very difficult format to work in, and the format isn’t fully supported in all ereaders. Likewise, you can, in theory, use Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) files — even animated ones. However, Apple is the only retailer that will accept them.

[7] Be careful not to compress the same image too many times — if you open a JPEG and then select Save As…, you’re going to apply a whole new round of compression. Do that often enough, and your beautiful photo will start to look awful.

FYI — I’m having another giveaway of my YA historical adventure novel Risuko over on Goodreads! Go check it out — enter for a chance to win a signed copy of your very own.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Risuko by David Kudler


by David Kudler

Giveaway ends January 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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MS to Ebook: A Cleaning Guide http://stillpointdigital.com/ms-to-ebook/ http://stillpointdigital.com/ms-to-ebook/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 18:56:25 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=3078 This is the third installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers, TheBookDesigner.com Over the last couple of months, I’ve been talking about just what an ebook is, and four basic methods for creating them. This month, I’m going … Continue reading MS to Ebook: A Cleaning Guide

The post MS to Ebook: A Cleaning Guide appeared first on Stillpoint Digital Press.


This is the third installment in my series of posts about ebook creation. Like the others, it was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonderful resource for indie publishers, TheBookDesigner.com

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been talking about just what an ebook is, and four basic methods for creating them.

This month, I’m going to get a bit more into the nitty-gritty — how best to prepare your manuscript for conversion.

Whichever of the methods you use to create your ebook, it’s essential to have the original file be as clean as possible.[*]

What do I mean by that?

Basically, it comes down to one thing:


Keep It Simple with Styles

The most important thing you need to do to your text is to makes sure that all of the formatting is simple and consistent. By simple and consistent, I don’t mean minimalist — I just mean that all of the body paragraphs look the same, and all of the chapter titles and section heads look the same.

Most manuscripts that come to me don’t look that way. Sometimes, they look as if they’ve been fed through a wood chipper.

As we write, we pull text from various sources — quotes from the internet, snippets of text that we typed into the phone, chapters written in different apps. Or perhaps we play around with how the text looks: sometimes paragraphs begin with an indent, sometimes with a tab, sometimes with four spaces, and sometimes with two returns in a row. Maybe we try out different fonts to see how they look; if a project has taken a long time, our tastes may change and the typeface we used for the body text may have changed, sometimes more than once: Palatino, Times, Times New Roman, Cochin, Helvetica, Comic Sans. Maybe you found that your eyes were getting tired and so you upped the font size from the standard 12 points to 14; maybe a line was too long and so you decreased it to 11 points. I’ve seen all of this.

Unless you’re looking closely, this can make your book look like a crazy quilt.

Here’s the thing: we don’t want our font changes to be local. We want them to be global — uniform throughout the book. And so we don’t want to tag each paragraph with a typeface, size, and weight (i.e., bold, semi-bold, regular, or light). If we do that, once it gets imported into the ebook, if we want to change how the text looks, we have to make the change for each individual paragraph — even if most of the paragraphs are the same, if just a few are different, they’ll stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Styling with Styles

The way to avoid this is by using the Styles function in whatever app you’re using to get the manuscript ready.[†][‡]

In Word, the Styles tool is part of the pop-up Toolbox:

See that list on the right? Each one of those items is a style — a global set of choices about what kind of font to use where. If you’ve worked with HTML at all, this is something like a stylesheet.[§]

So here’s the first thing we are going to need to do: make sure that all of the text is the same typeface and size, with the same margins.

Yeah, I know: painful. You spent hours getting those Zapfino captions looking just right.


Here’s the truth: none (or close to none) of the formatting that you’ve done will translate properly to an ebook. Remember: there’s no way to predict what size screen your reader is going to be reading on. And if whatever conversion technique you choose does manage to make the ePub version of the text look more or less like the Word (or Pages or OpenOffice or InDesign or…) document, if you’ve used local formatting, the text will be difficult to style later, and won’t display consistently across different platforms — on a Kindle Fire, say, or an iPhone, or a 27” monitor.[**] So we’re going to strip back the text to the bare studs. The only formatting you’ll want to keep is italics and boldfacing.[††]

First, before we destroy all of your beautiful fonts, save. Now save the file again under another name — add clean at the end of the filename, or something to let you know which version to use.

Now, select the whole manuscript (press ctl-A in Windows and command-A on Macs). In the Styles tool, select the Normal style.

Yeah. Sorry.

This will have gotten rid of most of the formatting — though not those character style changes I talked about: italics, bold, etc.

Now select the whole text again and make sure that it’s all the same font and size — choose a common font like Times or Helvetica so that it will display all of the character styles correctly. Then click on the New Style… button at the top of the Styles tool, and name the style something like Body or Text. Then, with all of the text still selected, click on the Body style button that has appeared in the Style tool, so that the entire manuscript is formatted as Body paragraphs.

Why have we done this? Because the huge majority of your book is going to be regular body text. We’re going to add the other styles back in a minute.

You probably don’t need to worry about the way that the style looks. If you want to play with the side or bottom margins or the first-line indent, go for it[‡‡] — but don’t get too fine about typefaces, letter-spacing, line-spacing, etc. We’re probably going to have to set a lot of those after the conversion anyway — and here’s a difficult truth: many of the styles you specify will be overridden by the reader’s user preferences. The typeface and size, the background color — unless you know what you’re doing (and sometimes not even then), the font display preferences that a reader chooses will trump many of the design choices you’ve made.

Adding Styles Back In

Now, you’re going to need to go through your whole book and set the style for each paragraph that isn’t a body paragraph. Word has some of those styles built in:


Subtitle (You can also use this for the author and publisher names)

Chapter title (aka Heading 1)

A-Head (aka Heading 2)

B-Head (aka Heading 3)

And so on.

To help you find paragraphs that you want to style, open your old version of the manuscript. (This is one reason that folks like me like to have two monitors.)

You may find that there are styles that aren’t accounted for in Word’s standard style library — perhaps you want extended block-quotes (aka extracts) where the font size is smaller and the side margins wider. Perhaps you have call-out quotes or sidebars. Perhaps you need captions, or your characters exchange letters, or there are text conversations and you want to make them look as if they’re being conducted on an iPhone:[§§]

Select the paragraph you want to add the style to. If it’s something simple (a wider margin and smaller font-size, for example), make the change. Don’t get too typeface-happy! If you use more than a couple of basic typefaces (one family — typically a serif typeface — for the body text and another — typically sans-serif — for the headers, not only will they probably disappear after the conversion, but if they don’t, your book will look like a ransom note.

Now click on the New Style… button, name your style, apply the style to the current paragraph (don’t forget this step!), and move on. The next time you find a paragraph that needs to fit that style, just select the text and click on the new custom style in the Style tool. Voilà! Your paragraphs are now formatted consistently.

Once you’ve gone through the whole manuscript, go through it again — make sure that all of the block-quotes have the Block-Quote style applied, that you haven’t styled any chapter titles as Heading 2 instead of Heading 1, and that the whole thing looks consistent. (You may also see some errors now that the typeface is different.)

You know what? If you have the time, it’s okay to go through it a third time. 😉

Squeaky Clean

The last step in cleaning up your manuscript and getting it ready to become a book is to get rid of extraneous white space. We’re going to use styles to create indents and margins.

Use the Find and Replace dialog to change every double space to a single space. If you had more than two spaces in a row, there will still be some there. Do it again and again until Word tells you it can’t find any.

Do the same for double paragraph breaks: enter ^p^p in the Find dialog and replace them with single breaks (^p). If you tended to add indents to your paragraph with the tab or space bar, replace “^p “ and “^p^twith^p

Repeat until clean.

There you go. Your manuscript is now consistent and ready for conversion — congratulations!

We’ll be discussing how to use HTML stylesheets after conversion so that your text displays correctly in coming months.

But next month: images.

[*] By the way, all of these suggestions apply to preparing your manuscript as a print book. Just saying! It will save you lots of time — or, if you’re hiring a designer, lots of money.

[†] I’m going to use Microsoft Word as the example, but just about every piece of text editing software, from barebones apps like TextEdit to high-end apps like InDesign has some variation on this tool. If you can’t find it, go to the software developer’s website, find the support area, and do a search on Styles — directions to how to add styles to your document should be there.


[‡] If you’ve already been using styles consistently, congratulations! You’ll still want to go through and make sure that all of your styles have been applied properly. Skip down to Adding Styles Back In.

[§] This is not precisely true. HTML styles (CSS) cascade — the style of each paragraph inherits any undefined formatting from the section that it’s in. In Word, the formatting for one Body paragraph is the same as any other Body paragraph.

[**] And that’s not even mentioning different apps.

[††] Not usually underlines! Typesetting fact: in printing, an underline simply denotes make this italic. In computer documents and ebooks, it means this is a hyperlink. So consider changing all of your underlined text to italics. If you’re used to marking book titles, etc. with underlines… I’m sorry. But unless you’re using the style for extreme EMPHASIS — and probably not even then — avoid underlines. Use italics instead.

[‡‡] Just don’t try both a bottom margin (a space after a paragraph) and text indent. They both mean new paragraph. Using both is redundant and a bad look

[§§]This was all done using HTML styles in the ebook. The left and right blocks are two different style with different margins and background colors. The author had styled the paragraphs so that it made creating the look we wanted relatively easy. (I don’t recommend this particular trick by the way — it’s difficult to get to work consistently!)

Photo: Clean it up by Judy

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4 Ways to Create an Ebook http://stillpointdigital.com/4-ways-to-create-an-ebook/ http://stillpointdigital.com/4-ways-to-create-an-ebook/#comments Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:12:22 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/?p=2744 This is the second in my series of blog posts about ebook creation. It was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonder resource site, TheBookDesigner.com. Last time I talked about just what an ebook is — a website in a box. Ebooks come in a number of flavors, but for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to … Continue reading 4 Ways to Create an Ebook

The post 4 Ways to Create an Ebook appeared first on Stillpoint Digital Press.

This is the second in my series of blog posts about ebook creation. It was originally posted on Joel Friedlander’s wonder resource site, TheBookDesigner.com.

Last time I talked about just what an ebook is — a website in a box. Ebooks come in a number of flavors, but for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to stick with the most common and most malleable format of ebook, the ePub file that is the basis of all of the major retailers’ ebook offerings.

There are four basic ways to create an ebook (that is, an ePub file):

  1. From scratch
  2. Saving from a word-processing or page-layout application into ePub format
  3. Using a conversion app or online service
  4. Hiring a designer

The trade-off among these methods involve quality, time, and price. As the old saying goes, you can generally pick two. In order to get all three, you’re going to need to become an ebook maven yourself, which will take a fair amount of time, but which will allow you to control all of the variables yourself. Let’s look at the options, and you can see whether that’s the road you want to take.

Option 1: Create the Ebook from Scratch

An ePub file, as I’ve said, is simply a website in a box. The box is nothing more than a ZIP archive that’s been given the file extension .epub. If you want to test this statement do this:

  1. Find an ePub file (it can’t have DRM — digital rights management — attached)
  2. Duplicate it so that you still have your original ebook to read and enjoy
  3. Change the extension (the last three or four letters in the file name after the last period) of the duplicate to .zip
  4. Double-click on the file

Voilà! You’ll have a folder containing all of the files that make up the ebook:

Creating an ebook from scratch

Those files and folders are Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By — unpacked.

Most of these files — the .xhtml files (a.k.a. web pages) and .css (a.k.a. stylesheet) file — are just what you’d find if you looked at the files building a fairly straightforward website.

The container.xml file serves one purpose: to tell the ereader where to look for the OPF file — that’s the one called content.opf here. That’s the heart of the ebook. It tells the ereader where to find all of the rest of the files in the ebook, what order to display them in, and what role each item serves (e.g. cover image, table of contents, etc.)

The toc.ncx file is a specialized navigation file; it contains the information that your ereader displays when you click on the contents or chapters button.

You can create all of this from scratch using text-editing software, or XML editing software, or a web-page editing app like Adobe Dreamweaver.

I don’t recommend it. The amount of labor involved is huge, and the places where you can make mistakes are many; computers are literal-minded, and a missing space or semi-colon that the human eye would fix without our even being aware of it will break an ebook.

However, it is possible to use those apps to edit an ebook after you created it using the techniques laid out below. There are even apps that allow you to do this without un-ZIPping the file, so that you can see the ebook as you edit it. Every day I use two open-source apps (Sigil and Calibre) to refine ebooks that I’ve generated.

What you see inside one of the xhtml files that make up the body of the ebook will look something like this:

XHTML in an ebook

That’s the title page of a book that I’m preparing for publication. If you’ve poked around web pages at all, that will all look fairly familiar — HTML tags, style attributes, image calls, a hyperlink or two. For what it’s worth, this is what the page looks like when it’s displayed by an ereader:


If all of that code looks scary to you — don’t worry. Though it’s essential to know some basic HTML if you want to get under the hood of your ePub file, there are other ways to create ebooks. And I’ll be talking some more about what all of that gobbledygook actually is in coming months. (If you’d like to jumpstart that process, I highly recommend Liz Castro’s excellent introduction, ePub Straight to the Point. It’s a few years old, but still does an great job of covering the basics.)

Option 2: Use an App That Exports ePub Files

So if you don’t want to go the DIY route, there are a number of applications that currently export directly to the ePub format:

  • Apache’s OpenOffice has a plug-in called Writer2ePub that allows you to save files as ebooks (open source office suite)
  • Scrivener (commercial writing app)
  • Apple’s Pages for OS X or iOS (commercial word-processing/page-layout app)
  • Adobe’s InDesign (high-end commercial page-layout app)
  • QuarkXpress (high-end commercial page-layout app)


The last two are particularly helpful if you are also preparing a book for print publication.

There are many more options — including add-ons and plug-ins to existing commercial and open-source apps.

All of these will create ePub files that work, and that should be accepted by most retailers.

What’s the downside? Well, there are a couple of things.

First of all, none of the files created by these apps will display quite the way that you expect them to in various ereaders, especially if you’ve got an ebook that’s got any complicated formatting such as drop-caps, tables, inset images, fancy typography, etc. The apps will try to reproduce on the screen what you were trying to create for the printed page, but often the style rules that the apps try to create make an incredible mess in one or more ereader. Everything may display as plain text on a Nook, while small images may fill the page on an old Kindle, while no images display at all on the Kindle app on your computer.

Here’s the same page displayed on different ereaders:

iBooks example



Adobe Digital Editions
ADE example

Note that on the Nook app, the captions (which are hyperlinks) display as blue rather than red. And notice that in Adobe Digital Editions, the image doesn’t display at all. (I was eventually able to get them to — by rewriting the stylesheet specifically for ADE and all of the apps based on it.)

Also, all of these programs have idiosyncrasies; most create ePub files that are very difficult to customize, since they treat any style change (italics, font size, indents, etc.) as a unique case, rather than applying a document-wide style. If you use the Styles formatting rules that all of these apps allow — apply a Body style to all body text paragraphs, for example, rather than formatting them as 12pt. Palatino and hitting the tab at the beginning of every paragraph — the results will be better, but inevitably the ePub file produced this way contain WAY too much code, enough to swell the file size. This is a problem when you upload the file to Amazon’s KDP, which will deduct a “transport fee” of $0.15 per megabyte of file size on each download from your royalty. (I’ll be speaking to all of these challenges more in coming months. I’ll also say why it’s probably not worth your time to create files in Apple’s wonderful iBooks Author.  iBooks Author is now more of an option than it was when I wrote this originally; still, not for the feint of heart.)

Option #3: Converting to ePub Using an App or Online Service

Most of us start with a manuscript — a Microsoft Word, ODF (OpenOffice Document File), or RTF (Rich Text Format) doc that we’re looking to turn into an ebook. Now, as I said last month, a Word doc isn’t an ebook. But you can format the text and even insert images, hyperlinks and the other paraphernalia that make up an ebook, and then use an app to convert the document into ePub format.

There are many, many such apps, both open-source and commercial, but I’ll only bother telling you about one that I’ve already mentioned: Calibre.

Calibre was created to convert between an impressive variety of ebook and manuscript formats, including HTML, RTF, DOCX, mobi, AZW3, and, of course, ePub. It has a number of controls that allow you to fine-tune the conversion — but if you’re document’s simple, the standard settings will probably do.

And of course, as I mentioned above, Calibre contains a WYSIWYG ebook editor that allows you to clean up your ePub file after the conversion.

There are also a number of ways to upload a Word document and get an ePub file. (Most of them fall under the paid conversion option, which comes below.) Many of the retailers allow you to upload a Word document directly.

Smashwords actually prefers Word docs — and will allow you to download your converted file in ePub format after they’ve run it through their famous “Meat Grinder” conversion tool (it’s actually a customized version of the software at the heart of Calibre). Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing does a pretty good job of converting simple Word files. Kobo’s Writing Life and Barnes and Nobles’ Nook Press have online ebook editing tools.

The downside here is the same as in Option #2 — the conversions are rarely perfect. And in most cases, there’s little that you can do about it, since the conversion is automated, and handled completely by the retailer.

If you go this route, it is essential that you check your ebook out, not just on the retailer’s “preview” or “Look Inside” widget, but on an actual ereader.

Option #4: Use an Ebook Designer or Company to Handle the Conversion

A quick disclaimer here: I’m an ebook designer, so I’m a bit biased toward this option.

Still, I know it’s not the option for everyone.

There are thousands of companies and individuals who create clean, attractive ebooks that will display properly across a variety of ereaders. Here are some reasons to use them:

  • You’ve got complex design elements (tables, lots of images, sidebars, endnotes, drop capitals, etc.) that will require special care.
  • You’re trying to create a fixed-format ebook (again, this is not a PDF.)
  • You want to add a read-aloud track, video, or other enhancements.
  • Your book contains non-Latin characters.
  • You’ve got complex chapter headers.
  • You want the ebook to look good, whatever device it’s read on, and you don’t want to spend the time learning how to make that happen.
  • The idea of looking at HTML makes you break out in hives.

Using a conversion expert or company obviously will involve some cost. It’s up to you to decide whether the expense is worth it.*

Next time, I’m going to talk about how to prepare your manuscript for conversion — whether by you or by someone else.

Please share your questions and comments below!


* NOTE: I had a couple of the readers of the original post grumble because I didn’t say how expensive it would be. Here’s what I told them:
There are a huge number of factors that go into the cost of a conversion, from the state of the book (digitized? format?) to its complexity (footnotes/endnotes? tables? number of images? relationship of images to text? sidebars?) to any desired enhancements (audio/read-aloud? video? animation? scripting/widgets?) that giving a range of costs would be a bit meaningless.
I’ve charged as little as $50 for a straightforward conversion to around $2,000 for a children’s picture book with animation, a read-aloud track (recorded by me) and a bunch of custom scripting. There are folks who charge more and some who charge less. I didn’t feel as if I could give a meaningful range.
If you’d like to get a sense of the costs involved, you could check out Joel’s site ebookconversiondirectory.com. Some of the entries are out of date, but it’ll give you a sense of the range of services and costs. And it’ll offer a few hundred possible services — including mine.

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What IS an Ebook? http://stillpointdigital.com/what-is-an-ebook/ http://stillpointdigital.com/what-is-an-ebook/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:57:51 +0000 https://stillpointdigital.com/stillpoint-author-blogs/?p=1254 Recently, I was honored to have been invited to post on Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer on the subject of ebooks — a subject I love talking about, having been designing ebooks since 2010. (In this industry that makes me practically an old-timer.) This is the first of a monthly series of posts on the … Continue reading What IS an Ebook?

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bigstock-Woman-Holding-Traditional-Book-91915880Recently, I was honored to have been invited to post on Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer on the subject of ebooks — a subject I love talking about, having been designing ebooks since 2010. (In this industry that makes me practically an old-timer.) This is the first of a monthly series of posts on the subject. It was originally released here.

There are lots of very complex questions when it comes to ebooks:

  • text and image formatting,
  • different file formats,
  • various workflows for creating ebooks,
  • and much more.

Defining “eBook”

For this post, before we get into the more esoteric issues of ebook design and publishing, I’d like to start by defining the subject: just what is an ebook?

This may sound like a very simple question to answer, but it isn’t as straightforward as you might think, and being able to answer it correctly will make many of the thornier issues of creating ebooks just a bit easier.

If I were to ask most folks to answer that question they’d probably say that an ebook is a digital file for reading text on a digital device — a computer, tablet, or smart phone. And that answer would be true, so far as it went.

Unfortunately, that definition would cover a wide variety of documents that aren’t ebooks. A Microsoft Word file, for example, is a great way to compose and share formatted text — heck, you can even add images and hyperlinks, just like an ebook.

Word docs, however, are by definition meant for writing and editing the text, not for distributing it commercially. We don’t want our readers rewriting sections of our books without our permission, do we? If they don’t like what we’ve written, fine; they can write their own books!


A kind of digital file that is frequently referred to as an ebook but that isn’t is the PDF — the now-universal Portable Document Format invented by Adobe as a way of distributing print documents digitally. Not only is it how we share our own personal documents (letters, etc.) through the internet, but it’s how publishers have been transferring print-ready files to commercial printers for decades. How is that not an ebook, you ask?

The PDF isn’t truly an ebook because it retains its format no matter the size of the screen that displays it. It will always be an accurate representation of the paper document that it represents — on a 27″ monitor, on a 13″ laptop display, on an 9.7″ iPad screen, or a 4.8″ Galaxy s3 phone.

The basic unit for a PDF is the page. And so as the screen shrinks, so does the page size, and with it the size of the words, and with them both the readability. Anyone who’s tried to read a PDF on a small screen knows what I mean.1

Characteristics of an eBook

What a true ebook, then, does, is to present correctly formatted text and images no matter the size of the screen it’s being displayed on. In order to do this, ebooks get rid of the idea of a page; the text will format to flow properly, and when one screen is full, will flow to the next — that is, they are reflowable.2

Images will resize (if the book has been properly designed) to the proportions of the screen. Ideally the book will be attractive and easy to read on any device — and because each software application for reading ebooks has some reader controls, some whose vision is no longer as strong as it once was (like, say, me) can make it larger, while someone who doesn’t like serif fonts can have the book display in sans-serif or, heck, Zapfino (don’t try this at home). And this can all be done without changing the ebook itself — the changes are simply user preferences within the app.

To give an idea of what I mean, here is a photo of the same book displayed on a number of different devices — just the ones that I happened to have on my desk:

Ebook examples

The History of eBook Formats

Now, there’s another kind of file that is meant to do very much the same thing — and you’re looking at one right now. Web pages provide exactly the flexibility that ebooks require. And so when the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) started looking at trying to create a new ebook standard over a decade ago, they looked to the language of the Web — HTML — as a basic building block.

At the time, there were many competing “ebook” formats that publishers and distributors were trying to get tech companies to use:

  • PDFs,
  • Palm’s mobi or Mobipocket files (the database-driven basis for the original Kindle file format),
  • Microsoft’s LIT (an HTML-based format, but proprietary, intended for books to be read on the Microsoft Reader app),
  • and a few more.

The IDPF created a format that specified a self-contained set of HTML files in a very specific format, and called it ePub. In the past decade, it has become the standard ebook file format. Most ebook reader apps and devices use some variation on the ePub file format to display text and images properly. That includes:

  • Apple’s iBooks,
  • Barnes and Noble’s Nook,
  • Rakuten’s Kobo,
  • and many more — including all of the Kindles that Amazon is currently shipping.3

And the ePub file itself is nothing more than a self-contained package containing a group of HTML files, with its own set of styles for formatting and a navigation document (or two) for making sure everything gets displayed in the right order.

And that is what an ebook is: a website in a box.

Next time, I’ll talk about what that actually means.

1 When I first posted this, a few folks questioned my assertion a PDF isn’t an ebook, pointing to fixed-format ePub, which is very similar. Here’s the difference between PDF and a fixed-format ePub (of which Amazon’s fixed-format KF8 is a variant): by swapping out the style sheet, deleting one file, and making a couple of clearly defined changes to the HTML, I can have a reflowable ebook. If the original file was put together correctly, I can do that in an hour. To do the same with a PDF, I have to do a complete conversion, either from the source file, or from the PDF itself, which can take much, much longer.
Add to that the scriptability of the ePub format (the ability to add widgets that pull data from the Internet or keep track of reader choices, to add a read-aloud track, say), and while fixed-format ebooks may look like PDFs, they aren’t the same thing. (And if you don’t understand any of that — don’t worry. I’ll be defining those terms in coming months.)

2 This leads to some really fun exchanges between ebook designers and their clients. I love getting lists of notes from clients saying that a particular problem shows up on “page 23.” I have to point out to them that page 23 on their laptop may be page 12 on my big monitor or page 124 on my phone.

3 Okay, that’s a bit of a simplification: Amazon’s so-called KF8 format that you may have heard of is in fact a variation on the ePub standard, as are the AZW3 files that you may have loaded into your Kindle or Kindle app (but not simple AZW files, which are just mobi files with digital rights management attached). KF8 files are a kind of Frankenstein monster with an ePub file to load onto newer Kindles and Kindle apps and an old mobi file to load onto older Kindles. Still: there’s ePub in there!

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How Long Can Video in Ebooks Be? http://stillpointdigital.com/how-long-can-video-in-ebooks-be/ http://stillpointdigital.com/how-long-can-video-in-ebooks-be/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 21:15:12 +0000 http://stillpointdigital.com/stillpoint-author-blogs/?p=1182 Enhanced ebooks have been a cause of much excitement over the past few years — and with good reason. One of the things that an ebook can do that a paper-and-ink book can’t is to add embedded video and sound. (There are many other ways to enhance an ebook— but those are the most common … Continue reading How Long Can Video in Ebooks Be?

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Video PixelsEnhanced ebooks have been a cause of much excitement over the past few years — and with good reason. One of the things that an ebook can do that a paper-and-ink book can’t is to add embedded video and sound. (There are many other ways to enhance an ebook— but those are the most common enhancements.) Here’s a chance to make the book something truly new!

At Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, we have a group that is meeting regularly, discussing enhanced ebooks, led by a long-time digital publisher, Joe Sinclaire. One of the members of that group recently shot me an email recently asking about how long a video she could reasonably add to an ebook — two minutes? Five minutes?

Here’s my answer:

Thanks for the question!
Starting with the understanding that only a few of the major outlets — notably Apple and Kobo — take ebooks with video, the answer is, whatever length you want — but obviously, you need to think about the size of the file.
The longer the video, the higher the resolution of the frame , the less compressed the video file, the more unwieldy the ebook. The biggest one I’ve ever uploaded was 100MB — it included three or four very short (30-40 second) videos. A 640×480 (aka Standard Definition, VGA, or 480p) video encoded as an MP4 file (the encoding that Apple requires) at a standard bitrate of about 1400kbps is about 40MB a minute. It adds up fast. I believe that Apple will turn down ebooks that are much bigger than 200MB. (Bigger than that and they become a pain to download and take up too much room on an iPhone/iPad.)
So five minutes is probably pushing it.
There are ways to shrink the video file size. You can use shorter clips. You can use a smaller frame size. You can compress the video by using a lower bitrate — just as you can squeeze a JPEG image by using higher compression/lower quality. But recognize that you’re making the video less watchable. They start looking like the old 3GP videos that folks used to shoot on flip phones.
A couple of additional things to consider: only include the video if it actually improves the book — not just because you think it would be cool. And recognize that — for now and for the foreseeable future — you won’t be able to upload the enhanced ebook to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or a number of the other outlets. And that none of those outlets will currently allow a book much bigger than 20MB.
A possible workaround: embedding YouTube or other online videos within the ebook as a “widget” — you hit the play triangle, and the ebook accesses the web, streaming the video from the cloud. In that case, it can be as long as you want it to be.

Now, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the others do kind of allow video — but it’s severely limited, and it’s only available to large commercial publishers.

And if you want to go another route, you can try to create the enhanced ebook as an app — though Apple has been strongly discouraging publishers from creating book apps that are more book than app.

In any case, here’s the thing: enhanced ebooks are still a technology in search of content and a market. We’ve had a lot of ideas about how to take advantage of the opportunities that the new technology offers, but readers have, for the most part, not been interested. Part of the problem, as I mentioned above and Digital Book World has pointed out, is that publishers can’t distribute the same content to different markets. And part of it is that, beyond the “Wow, that’s cool” effect, we’re still trying to figure out how best to leverage multimedia and scripting (adding small programs that can change the way that a book displays depending, for example, on a choice that the reader has made, or on changes in outside circumstances — the weather, the stock market, etc.). Outside of the the textbook market and children’s picture books, no one has really been able to get the readers to pay for the extra work that enhancing an ebook requires.

Enhanced ebooks aren’t going away; the technology is compelling, as are the opportunities it offers, for new kinds of books. But as happened with television, which Philo Farnsworth invented (in a San Francisco neighborhood that’s now home to dozens of tech startups), it may be a while until we have the content and the audience to make them worth producing.

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New Joseph Campbell ebook: Oriental Mythology http://stillpointdigital.com/new-joseph-campbell-ebook-oriental-mythology/ http://stillpointdigital.com/new-joseph-campbell-ebook-oriental-mythology/#respond Sun, 28 Sep 2014 20:57:19 +0000 https://stillpointdigital.com/stillpoint-popular-posts/?p=1178 Just wanted to pass along an announcement from Joseph Campbell Foundation about the formal release of Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, the newest ebook in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell! It’s a project that we’ve been working on for more than a year, and are pleased to see come to fruition. The ebook, the … Continue reading New Joseph Campbell ebook: Oriental Mythology

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Oriental Mythology
Just wanted to pass along an announcement from Joseph Campbell Foundation about the formal release of Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, the newest ebook in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell! It’s a project that we’ve been working on for more than a year, and are pleased to see come to fruition.

The ebook, the first release in a digital edition of the Masks of God series, explores the evolution of the myths of the Middle East and Asia from the dawn of history up until modern times, looking at how they have changed from country to country and millennium to millennium, and how they’ve remained the same.

The ebook is currently available only on the foundation’s website, JCF.org, as a thank you gift for donations of $9.99 and greater.

The Flowering of Myth in Asia

JCF is pleased to announce the electronic publication of Oriental Mythology, available for digital download as our thank you to Associates when you donate $9.99 to the Foundation.

In this second volume of The Masks of God—Joseph Campbell’s major work of comparative mythology—the pre-eminent mythologist looks at Asian mythology as it developed over the course of five thousand years into the distinctive religions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Japan.

The Masks of God is a four-volume study of world religion and myth that stands as one of Joseph Campbell’s masterworks. On completing it, he wrote: Its main result for me has been the confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology, but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified and turned about, distorted, reasserted, and today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge.

This new digital edition, part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series, includes over forty new illustrations. The other three volumes of this series are in the process being revised, edited, and formatted for digital release.

Donate and download Oriental Mythology at JCF.org >>

Be sure to select whether your download should be in .mobi format (used primarily by Kindle) or ePub (the Nook reader, iBooks, and most non-Amazon devices).

Visit our Ebook/download FAQ if you have questions about the download process.

Joseph Campbell Foundation relies on donations to help fulfill its mission of perpetuating Campbell’s ground-breaking work. Joseph Campbell Foundation is a US registered 501c(3) not-for-profit corporation (Federal Tax I.D. #99-0285097); contributions should be fully tax-deductible. Please consult your tax professional regarding deductibility.

Tax-deductible donations can be made online by clicking here, or by sending a check to:

Joseph Campbell Foundation
P.O. Box 36
San Anselmo, CA 94979-0036

Thank you for your support!

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