Sticky Wiki: What’s the Best Way to Share eBook Production Information?

Sharing is caring. 

If you haven’t already, sign in to Twitter and follow the #eprdctn tag. There are some talented and generous professionals who help each other out with eBook production. We’ve been at it for more than a year now. (Begun by @crych, we are in your debt.) There’s an hour of presentations and chat every Wednesday at 11am New York Time, you can check the schedule here.

The problem is, tweets are ephemeral. There are some ways of capturing particular hashtags from a particular time span, or from a particular person, but if you’re trying to remember that text-indenting hack you read a few months back, well, you’re likely out of luck.

There’s some links on delicious.com, tag #eprdctn. We’ve tried a wiki, personally hosted by a frequent contributor to #eprdctn. However, we are competitors also, so neutral territory is preferred. The the group parameters are:

  • neutrality, no one contributor should profit in money or reputation from the work of the group as a whole
  • free, as in no fee, access to the information
  • easy to use and maintain, because we’re all busy making a living

One sensible suggestion is to join up with MobileRead, through our own URL. (generously and anonymously donated). It sure beats reinventing the wheel.  What do you think? And why not try it?

The Coolest eProduction Stuff I Could Find

In which I learn a fixed-width EPUB previewing workflow from an expert, and the CSS Regions demo makes my jaw drop.

Between the technical sessions, I spoke with a woman from the audience who had answered an iBooks question. It turns out she works for Apple, and kindly shared her fixed-width EPUB proofing workflow with me. I haven’t tried it yet, if you try it, let me know how it works!

<!– thanks to everyone for the feedback, steps have been updated 6.3 –>

  1. In the CSS, define dimensions for the body. Its easiest if these dimensions match the viewport dimensions. Also define a border on the body. This will outline the page, making it easier to place the elements on the page. Remove this border before publishing the book. body { width: 400px; height: 300px; border: thin solid red;}
  2. Once everything is previewing well in Safari on the desktop, preview in Safari on the iPad simulator. You shouldn’t need to change much if anything in this step. iOS Simulator is part of XCode and is available from developer.apple.com and and the Mac App store, free to registered developers and 4.99 from the App store. Note, Mac OS X 10.6.6 is  required. (I will have to skip this step until I’m ready for a system upgrade)
  3. Finally, load the EPUB into iBooks. If you need to make iterations, change the title of the book to circumvent iBook’s cacheing.
The Future of EPUB session was eye candy.
IDPF is moving the EPUB standard forward trying to balance accessibility and the high standards of magazine creative directors with input from DAISY and IDEAlliance.
One application of adding metadata to parts of magazines would be to repurpose content. For instance, a retrospective book with all articles and images about a celebrity would be quick and relatively easy to create from an archive of digital magazines with metadata at the article level. (especially if the article is structured and uses stylesheets consistently)

Complex layouts with reflowable text and JavaScript interaction.

Take THAT custom apps!

CSS 3 Regions from Adobe looks fabulous. This article from Adobe explains further, and the WebKit-based prototype is available for download.
Any suggestions for explaining to my business partner why I can’t do billable work because I’m geeking out playing with CSS3 Regions?

eProduction Jumpstart

EasyPress and Adobe highlight their best features, Joshua Tallent convinces me to buy his book, and I’m guessing no one knows which workflow is most efficient without trying them all.

The morning tech session focused on case studies of eBook conversion. First up was James MacFarlane of the cloud-based auto conversion service EasyPub from EasyPress. This web-based platform looked like it did a pretty fair job of converting files, although in a one-on-one demo the day before, there had been a glitch. McFarlane suggested starting with an Indesign file with style sheets universally applied (all of your backlist documents are totally style-sheeted right?), both character and paragraph sheets are acceptable to the system. The file is uploaded to your client portal, and you map document styles to CSS styles using a point and click interface. Then the file is automatically converted for all eReaders, except Nook, which requires an extra process.

Kiyo Toma from Adobe showed off InDesign 5.5s snazzy new EPUB export features. Lots less code junk, human readable-line breaks, no more anchoring images (woot!!!), image optimization improvements, image spacing you can set in InDesign. Lots of the #eprdctn folks on Twitter have bought the InDesign update, and love it. Is it faster than starting from scratch and hand coding your document? I’m not sure. It’s certainly an advantage to have one document for both print and web, it would make corrections and iterations easier to implement and track. Many current eBook production workflows are blends of automatic conversion and hand coding-fix ups. I’ll be curious to see how the InDesign 5.5 workflow stacks up to that in terms of cost and efficiency.

Joshua Tallent of eBook Architects suggests this Kindle workflow: ePub>remove fonts>add guide to OPF>minimize CSS>remove borders>add page breaks. Joshua was also passionate about the need for good document structure and human-readable code as the best ways to a) provide accessibility and b) future proof your documents. My last note from this session is “Buy Joshua’s damn book.” So I plan to.

One participant raised the question, “Can you just write the html from scratch like a website?” Which kind of brought the panel discussion to a halt. Of course you can. I find it much easier than cleaning up the code from Adobe 4.o, especially for a fixed-width title. Figuring out which CSS tags work well in browsers but are not supported in reading system x or y or z, that’s kind of another story. Would it be more efficient and cost-effective to use the EasyPub service or upgrade to InDesign 5.5? Hard to say. Start small and fail fast? Begin with what you know and build from there?