So You Want to Make an eBook? : Software
April 08, 2011 ebooksThis post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.
There are some software requirements that you'll need. First, the non-optional ones:
The supplement pack from my website - There is a file on my website that goes with this book. There are examples of what I'm talking about in that pack. Feel free to use these examples as a starting point for your own work.
Calibre - This open-source eBook solution is useful for three reasons. It has a built-in eBook viewer, it can handle some conversion, and it has the relatively friendly epub-fix utility bundled with it. It can be found at: http://calibre-ebook.com
A Programming Text Editor - Note: I do not mean a word processor like MS-Word or OpenOffice. Just a text editor. Specifically, you want a text editor that does context coloring; it will help you keep everything straight. I use Notepad++, which is Windows-only, but runs well in WINE for Linux and Mac folks. I've been told that TextWrangler is a good Mac alternative, and GEdit works well for Linux. (If you're used to nano or vim on *nix systems, you already know what I'm talking about.) The default text editor for your operating system will work, so you don't need this in quite the same way… but it will definitely reduce your eyestrain and troubleshooting.
Notepad++ can be found at http://sourceforge.net/projects/notepad-plus/
TextWrangler can be found at http://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/
Hints for getting Notepad++ functionality from GEdit can be found at http://stackoverflow.com/questions/72106/what-can-i-use-as-a-notepad-alternative-in-linux-ubuntu
Converting RTF to HTML - You need a way to convert RTF to HTML. Let me just say this up front: MS-Word does a horrible, complicated job of converting anything to HTML. Avoid this like the plague. You may have a word processor that saves as HTML and gives you a nice clean file. Atlantis works well for exporting to HTML (it also says it'll export to an ePub, but you'd still have to clean it up anyway).
If not, create a free Gmail account and send yourself the RTF file. When it shows up in your inbox, use the web interface to "View" the document. Then save that page as "Web Page, HTML Only". It's free, and works just fine. This is the process that I walk through here.
There are free and/or open source programs that claim to convert from RTF to HTML. My luck with them has been sketchy at best. Feel free to try them at your own risk.
Zip file utility - You need this because ePub is a ZIP file with a specific structure. Since WinXP, Windows has been able to create and open ZIP files in the basic Explorer window. Fileroller on most Gnome-based Linux distributions does a good job at unpacking, but not so good at creating them because of a specific quirk in the ePub format. I honestly don't know about Macs. Regardless, a free crossplatform system is Zipcreator, found here: http://www.zipcreator.com/. Zipcreator is a Java program, so if you use it, you will need to make sure you have Java installed (below).
And now, the optional programs.
Java - If you wish to validate your ePub on your own computer, you will need to have a correctly-installed version of Java. It can be found at: http://www.java.com
Epubcheck - This tool is a Java program (hence the above entry) that is completely anal-retentive about your ePub. It will check everything completely, and thoroughly… but also gives some kind of strange and obscure errors. I will mention an online version later as well, but this is obviously more secure. The program can be found at http://code.google.com/p/epubcheck.
Image Software - This depends entirely on your needs, and how complex your covers are. Realistically, if you have not had training in graphic design, hire a graphic designer. Really. Covers are how people judge whether or not to buy your book. There is a very clear "look" to unprofessionally made covers, and readers will avoid any book that has that "look".
Tastes and preferences with image software vary widely. One free, cross-platform option that does practically everything is The Gimp, found at http://www.gimp.org/. The GIMP is sometimes faulted for being not intuitive, but it's not that hard. Guides to basic GIMP usage can be found here: http://esdev.net/master-gimp-in-3-easy-steps/
Webstore - I used to recommend SimpleIPN as a free solution. It's not hard, but requires a little bit of PHP knowledge and web-fu. It doesn't use databases, just some PHP and interfacing with PayPal, so it's speedy as heck. You can find it here: http://www.minisitegallery.com/blog/simple-ipn.html Be sure to read the comments for common problems and their solutions.
Another free (and easier) option is “Fat-Free Cart” (http://www.fatfreecart.com/), and its pay version, e-Junkie, if you need coupons or other options like that. You can find e-Junkie at (http://www.e-junkie.com). Both are dead easy to set up, and quite speedy.
As a side note, I'm not going into detail with the automatic conversion options for Atlantis or Calibre, because... well, they're automatic conversions. If you wish to use those as a base and "fix" it from there, you can - but often it's as much work as doing it all by hand.
Next time: We finally start converting the text!
This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.