Converting a Novel from InDesign to ePub: Part 1

In previous blog entries I’ve talked about some of the problems of creating a decent quality e-book file.  Here, I’ll let you watch as I convert my InDesign master file containing my novel Pixie Dust, already formatted for the paper version, into an ePub version.

I’ll show the steps, as well as mention a few of the reasons for some of my design decisions.

The Master File
PD-Textmaster.indd is the fully formatted version of the novel, from which the PDF file is made that is uploaded to LightningSource, my printer.  It contains all of the interior of the book.  The actual cover is created separately and uploaded as an independent PDF file.  I call the interior file Textmaster because this is where all changes collect.  If I discover a typo, or correct a paragraph, those changes go here.  At this point, the manuscript original is archived and not changed.  Once the book is published in e-book and paper formats, tiny changes may be made to all the interim files, but big changes would have to be made to Textmaster and this conversion repeated.

My first novel Emperor Dad, was published with Microsoft Word as the master from which the fully formatted PDF was created.  It can be done, but I moved to InDesign because this is the professional tool designed for the task.  When I’ve had to go back to make corrections to Emperor Dad, it has been much more work than with the subsequent novels done in InDesign.

Clone the master file.  A simple copy and rename creates a new file where I can make e-book specific changes without affecting the original print version.

Simplify the front material layout.  In the paper version, there are a number of leading pages, the title page, the copyright page, the dedication, the table of contents, etc.  These are traditional and serve valid purposes, but the e-book is a different critter.  A reader of a paper book unconsciously skips past this leading material, but in an e-book the reader has to slog through it, and it can be a source of annoyance.  I try to boil it down to a single page, and reduce the font size if possible.  At this point, I change the ISBN number from the paper version to one specific to the e-book version.  I leave the paper ISBN number there, but it’s plainly marked as being for the paper version.

Add the cover image. Place the front cover image as new first page, replacing the fly sheet if there is one.  Fit the content to the frame.  This image will be compressed during the conversion step, so I just went ahead and used the full sized image.

Convert the scene breaks. A scene break marks the change in the text larger than a paragraph but smaller than a chapter.  Grab a few books off your shelf and you will find that standard paperback sizes will frequently use the convention of all-capping or italicizing the first line of the new scene.  Hardbacks and trade paperbacks often use drop caps, the larger than normal first letter, formatted with the other text wrapping around it.  My paper versions are 6×9 trade paper, and I frequently use drop-caps.  All versions also include a blank line separating the scenes.

Scene breaks are meant to be invisible.  You wouldn’t think so, just by the description, but this extra typography has been carefully designed over centuries to signal to the reader that something has changed.  Because nearly every book we read uses these conventions, we just accept it and filter it out, but our subconscious gets the signal.  Where scene breaks are left out, due to poor conversion or poor layout, the reader gets very confused when the point of view shifts, or a gap in time happens, and the following action just makes no sense.

In a manuscript, a scene break is signaled by something like this:

And the new scene follows. A few books do nothing but leave a blank line, extra spacing, to signal the scene break.  This can work, except when the scene break happens at the end of a page.  The reader flips to the next page and gets confused.  Something more than just a blank line is needed, especially when formats are automatically shifted in an e-book reader and you never can tell where a scene break will happen on the screen.
For Pixie Dust, I will be using the convention of a nearly invisible centered ellipsis, much like the mark I use for the original manuscript.
When I converted the manuscript to paper layout, I marked scene breaks with an Header3 paragraph style, centered, and replaced the ### with an EM-Space.  On the paper, all that is visible is a blank line.  I also mark the following scene with a drop cap.  
So, now, to convert them all to my e-book version, I do a global search and replace of the EM-Space with an ellipsis character.  The following paragraph, marked with a drop-cap style format is changed to regular text by doing a global search and replace of the drop-cap style to my regular body style. If I were going directly to e-book from the original manuscript, this would obviously be an easier process.
Export to ePub format. Use File->Export for Digital Editions…  Once you specify the filename and folder, you will have the opportunity to control the content with additional forms.

Include Document Metadata takes the information like book title and author that you have included via the File->File Info… set of forms.  If you are lucky enough that InDesign has done a good enough conversion to ePub for your purposes, this metadata addition is a good thing, but other editing tools I use later also allow adding it.

I have turned off Include Embeddable Fonts for two reasons.  One is that this increases the file size.  The other is that my careful design decisions appropriate for my paper book may be entirely inappropriate for ebook readers, PDAs and cell phone screens.  The font names are still exported, so if the reader device supports it, that’s fine, but I choose fonts for readability, not for stylistic statements, so simplicity rules here.

In the Contents pane, I include the TOC entries.  The actual table of contents text is removed in the conversion process, along with blank pages and some other formatting information.  As I indicated before, IF InDesign has done a good enough conversion for you at this point, and table of contents generated for you in InDesign will carryover into ePub and you’ll be glad to save the post conversion step.

At this point, I have an ePub file that will work in many readers.  For me, this is just the first step, because I have more cleanup to do, due to less than perfect conversion.  I’ll go into that in the next blog entry.

1 comment

  1. Found in this blog post:

    Thomas and Hunt [of Pragmatic Programmers], however, are tech guys, and their background allowed them to bring their own specific solutions into the discussion. Thomas, and I paraphrase, noted he’d attended a workshop demonstrating the process of porting an InDesign file to EPUB, and the number of steps involved made him cry. During that same workshop, he managed to create his own EPUB file in approximately 40 seconds; the two also demoed the creation of MOBI file during their workshop. Total elapsed time was about a minute, and this was done live.

    The two demonstrated how using the right tools — in this case, structured mark-up of manuscripts and solid scripts to create files — can save publishers time and money. Every publisher is different; I don’t imagine many trade publishers will be inclined to force their authors to upload their manuscripts using the structured XML (they call it PML, their own flavor of the mark-up) necessary to make the process easier. But there are ways to achieve these goals, starting with editorial.

    Not sure how one might find further details, though.

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