How I learned to make ebooks

Today I was asked how I learned to make ebooks. The question came from a client contact who I assume was interested in learning more, rather than leaving all the work and decisions to suppliers. This is great – as a publisher, the more you know how to do yourself, the more equipped you are to make creative decisions. And, frankly, the more likely you are to still have a publishing job in ten years.

I taught myself from online resources. There were three parts to it:

  1. I learned how to use InDesign well – this isn’t strictly necessary, but made a huge difference to my efficiency later on. I still use InDesign to format text for ebooks, because its styling process is so powerful and efficient, and these days it exports pretty tidy HTML afterwards (inside its epub files).
  2. I learned HTML and CSS. This took several years dabbling with websites (I built the first arthurattwell.com in really crappy HTML in 2000 – here it is in 2003). There are a billion sites that will teach you this stuff, but the best overall resource is probably w3schools.com. HTML and CSS are the heart of any ebook.
  3. Finally, I combined these two areas to create ebooks. I’ve written up most of the processes and many of the tricks on EBW’s Knowledge Base. Also listed there are several online guides/resources that I found hugely helpful: general ones and specific epub ones.

Beyond those carefully constructed resources, there was a lot of reading endless community-support forum discussions, where others had gone before and asked and answered almost any question that ever occurred to me.

If you’re willing to spend a lot of time reading and experimenting, you can learn how to do anything online. Start with Google.

Right now, for Paperight, I’ve been learning a lot about server software, PHP, Python, database structures, CSS efficiencies, server-side PDF processing, payment gateways, and more. You do have to love reading and trying stuff, even at the expense of your evenings and your bloodshot eyes.

If you make ebooks, how did you learn?

1 thought on “How I learned to make ebooks

  1. Everything I know about ebooks is also pretty much from the web — but especially from communities such as Mobileread, where they’ve been talking about this stuff since before the Kindle existed!

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