If you’re relatively new to self-publishing, perhaps you’ve only used Amazon to sell your ebooks. After all, it’s relatively simple. You create a Word doc, format it, and upload it to Amazon’s publishing platform, KDP. But if you want to publish your ebooks elsewhere, you need an EPUB.
In case you’re not familiar with an EPUB ebook, this is the file format used by almost every other e-reader, except Kindle. Kobo, Nook, and iBooks use the EPUB format. EPUB is an open-platform format, meaning everyone has access to the code or language required to create an EPUB, and they are sold on Apple’s iBooks store, on Kobo and Nook. You can even read an EPUB ebook on your computer using Adobe Digital Editions or any other e-reader that uses the EPUB format.
How Do You Create An EPUB eBook?
You can create an EPUB ebook using Microsoft Word and a plain text editor, but it’s not for beginners. An EPUB is a collection of HTML documents, and unless you know how to write HTML code, it’s a complicated process.
A variety of paid and free software exist for creating EPUB ebooks. Some are easier to use than others. Unfortunately, some software outputs an EPUB that can be viewed on some e-readers but that won’t pass the EPUB validator, a requirement for uploading to the Apple iBooks Store, without some manual adjustments.
EPUB eBook Creation Tools
Sigil is free EPUB editing software. It’s fairly easy to use and I’ve heard of some people having good results with it. Personally, I had only problems trying to use it. It crashed frequently and the ebooks I created using Sigil didn’t look nice. I had difficulty figuring out how to control things such as page breaks.
Personally, I prefer using authoring software. If you work in the tech world you may be familiar with one or more authoring tools. Because authoring software is often XML-based, most can be used to publish an EPUB.
I prefer to work with Adobe InDesign, Adobe FrameMaker, or MadCap Flare. These aren’t free, but they are powerful software tools that allow me to properly format my ebooks so they look professional. Each also allows me to add a certain amount of metadata within the software, without having to manually open the EPUB file and make adjustments.
Another reason I like using the Adobe products and Flare for creating EPUB ebooks is that I can output both print and digital books from one space. In the early days of creating ebooks, I started with a Microsoft Word document, uploaded this to KDP, and then imported the Word file into InDesign to create a print document. I then created a PDF for print and sent it to someone else to convert the PDF to EPUB. But I’ve learned a few things along the way, and now I create my own EPUB ebooks, Kindle ebooks and printed books from one piece of software.
Using InDesign, FrameMaker, or Flare, I can create master pages for headers, footers, page numbering, front matter, and left and right-facing pages for the print version. If I’ve used good formatting, I can also output a digital file without changing a thing. EPUB files are output natively from within InDesign and FrameMaker. To output the MOBI Kindle file, you’ll need to install a free plugin, but once you do, creating Kindle ebooks is a breeze—and all from one file.
Which EPUB Tool Should You Use?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s talk about a few.
Sigil And Other EPUB eBook Tools
Sigil, as I mentioned before, is a free EPUB editing tool. I’m sure you can also create EPUBs, although as I mentioned, I’ve had problems with Sigil and I’ve read about similar problems other’s have had. It crashes frequently, sometimes it doesn’t save metadata correctly, and files often won’t validate. Sigil is open-source software and has had a very unstable past. the project was abandoned for a while. Now it’s back, but the main developer announced in June 2015 that he was leaving the project. Others carry on with the project, but I don’t trust my books to such an unstable environment.
Calibre is an ebook management tool, but you can do some editing of EPUB files. While some self-publishers have had good luck with it, Calibre is rather unstable. Sometimes it jumbles text and paragraphs and often is rejected by Amazon. The problem could lie in the files imported to Calibre. If they’re not clean and you don’t know how to edit html, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth, in my humble opinion.
Blue Griffon EPUB Edition is from the makers of Blue Griffon Web Editor. I admit I have not tried this EPUB tool, but I used the Web editor a few years ago and stopped because it kept corrupting my code and Web pages. Anyway, the copyright date for the EPUB edition is 2012-13, so that doesn’t leave me much hope for this editor.
I’ve never used Jutoh, but I’ve heard some positive reviews. One review says you can’t edit the code, which if you don’t want to is great; but it makes me wonder if you lose some formatting control and are limited by Jutoh’s formatting. If you have feedback about Jutoh, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
FrameMaker is an Adobe product and backed by Adobe stability. It requires a pretty steep learning curve to get started and an even greater learning curve to master. But if you are already using Adobe FrameMaker or you’re transitioning from MadCap Flare, you’re in for a treat. Creating ebooks has never been easier. Format your text, edit a few settings, and publish a PDF, an EPUB and a MOBI file for Kindle in a few clicks. You can now purchase FrameMaker as a monthly subscription.
Another Adobe product, InDesign is relatively inexpensive. Last I checked it was less than $25 US/month. There is somewhat of a learning curve with InDesign, but it’s not too difficult to learn the basics needed to create a text-only book. My only beef with InDesign is that I usually need to open the EPUB file and make a few manual edits to get it to validate. I’m still using InDesign CS5, so this may have changed in more recent versions. But these are simple edits and can be easily learned. I love working with InDesign, so I was thrilled when I learned how to create EPUB and MOBI files using the same print file.
While MadCap Flare punches a hefty price tag, the power of this software is unbeatable. Like FrameMaker, Flare has a fairly steep learning curve for the beginner not accustomed to using authoring software. But also like FrameMaker, if you can master the learning curve or you’re already familiar with Flare or FrameMaker, creating EPUB ebooks from your master print document is quick and easy.
Testing Your EPUB eBooks
I recommend always testing your EPUB ebooks on various devices. All e-readers are not created equal, and while these e-readers will render EPUB files, each has its unique quirks. By testing your EPUB files on various e-readers, you can make adjustments in your file and quickly create a new EPUB output.
Also, run your EPUB file through the EPUB Validator. The validator checks your EPUB for problems and provides a report, albeit sketchy. If your EPUB does not pass the validator it may still render on some devices. You may or may not notice issues or problems with the file. But if your EPUB does not pass the validator, it will be rejected when you try to upload and submit it to the Apple iBooks Store and perhaps other online vendors.
Download this FREE PDF “Testing Your eBook With FREE Apps” that I created just for you. You’ll get a list of free apps and directions for how to add your ebooks to these apps on your computer, iOS, or Android device and test them.