Five Essential Tools for Creating eBooks

Listen up, authors and publishers. eReaders aren’t going away. If your books aren’t in eBook format, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. And as your readers have less and less disposable income, being able to pass on the savings of not printing, distributing and shipping your novel is HUGE. But, eBooks come fraught with their own perils, pitfalls and advantages – ones that self-published authors and small presses on small budgets need to deal with. Creating an eBook isn’t as simple as shipping off your manuscript and having it magically appear on iPads and Kindles everywhere. If your book isn’t designed, formatted and produced well – stores won’t even carry it. If your cover isn’t appealing, people won’t open it. And if the inside is messy and hard to read, people will trash it.

So where do you start? Luckily, there are a plethora of tools at your disposal to help you create a slick looking eBook. These are five of my favorites, and ones that I find myself turning to over and over again while I’m making eBooks for Midwestern Gothic.
Lynda is a massive website with literally thousands of training videos. If you’re serious about learning how to make a professional eBook, and are willing to set aside ten or more hours learning the ins and outs, it’s well worth the $25 monthly subscription. Whether you’re using Word, InDesign or some other tool to create your eBook, or if you need help deciding which tool to use, start here. I find myself referring back to this material often – it’s amazingly deep and covers everything you can think of.

If you’ve worked with HTML or CSS you’ll realize an eBook is a lot like a website once you start playing around with the guts of an ePub (that’s the universal eBook format). It’s made up of many files stitched together to form one cohesive user experience. There are a few tools out there that will unpack the ePub, and you could even do it by just unzipping the file itself and using an HTML editor. But I like Sigil, an ePub-focused tool that is a cinch to use and has all the deep, control intensive features you need.

Three Press
The online stores won’t take just any old ePub. It has to pass a series of quality checks that are universally accepted – think of it like emissions testing for autos. If your book doesn’t pass, it won’t even leave your garage. Instead of banging your head against the wall by getting your file rejected over and over by sellers, use Three Press’s validation tool. It’ll tell you if you pass or fail, and (more importantly) tell you why you failed.

ePub to .mobi
The kindle has created its own format (.mobi) for displaying eBooks on the Kindle, which makes the whole “ePub is the unversal format” argument a little problematic. Thankfully, this site will let you upload your ePub and convert it to a .mobi file, or vice versa.

EPUB Reader Firefox Extension
This is by far the simplest way I’ve found to test how my ePub looks and behaves. For more fine-tuning, you’ll definitely want to download the Kindle and iPad emulators out there to see how your ePub will look. But while you’re in the midst of working on it and you just want to see how a tiny change you just made looks, it’s as simple as dragging the file into your Firefox browser and seeing how it all shakes out.