Tuesday, 20 August 2013

e-picture books by Sandra Horn

          This blog is a right cheat, really. As you will know only too well, I am a complete rabbit when it comes to anything more complicated than a pencil, but someone had asked about the 'how' of creating e-picture books. So I asked Himself to tell me all about it because he knows and anyway I've been busy lately what with edebookfest, lifewriting and comedy writing and raiding the goody bag and sorting out the animals, and that's probably enough excuses to be going on with.
Suvi and the Sky Folk
          Here we go then; the gospel about e-picture books according to Himself.
          Now that colour e-readers and tablets are available for a reasonable price and more people, including children, have them, having children's picture books e-published seemed worthwhile. However, the epub and mobi formats are not really suitable for fixed-layout books because of the uncontrolled reformatting, and the requirement to upload from Word isn't helpful. It seemed that the only way to fix the layout was to incorporate the text in the graphic images as a bitmap in Photoshop (or a similar program), drop the images into Word page by page, and upload the whole document. This isn't ideal; the text becomes jagged if magnified and if the image resolution is reasonably high, the files become very large and may fall foul of the upload size limits. Also, they are slow to upload and slow for purchasers to download to a mobile device.
          However, the new Kindle KF8 format provided an answer to these problems, but producing books in this format requires some familiarity with HTML formatting. It is covered well by the guide 'Fixed Layout Books for Kindle Fire' by Shirley W Hopkins (a Kindle book price £3.24) but if you don't fancy strugging with this there is a possible short cut. The Kindle KC2 Comic Book Creator module is available to download. It will accept a pdf from your normal desktop publishing sofware and produce a file which will publish satisfactorily in the Kindle store. It's almost idiot-proof! We have used it so far for 'The Crows' Nest', 'I Can't Hear You! I Can't See you!' and 'Suvi and the Sky Folk' and will soon be adding some more of our picture books. Look out for Rory McRory bellowing his way across the universe any day now.
          Things are not yet perfect, however. Smashwords still requires an upload via Word, so getting picture books into iTunes, Sony, Barnes and Noble, etc. involves the unsatisfactory process described above and may not yet be worth the hassle.
          So far, it must be said, sales have been excruciatingly slow (verging on non-existent). However, the books are up there and out there. They won't be remaindered, we haven't had to raid the zimmer frame fund to print them, we don't need to store them. It just needs time...
          This is another attempt to upload this blog, which has changed in subtle ways since my first go last night. 

I Can't See You...

          And has changed in some unsubtle ways in the last few minutes! - Sue Price. (That is, I added pictures and links, folks.)

8 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

Very interesting and slightly daunting, Sandra. I want to publish three short novels which have b/w illustrations by the great Meg Rutherford interspersed in the text at fairly specific places. To publish text-only without them would defeat the whole purpose because they are so marvellous. As I read your blog, none of the techniques above will quite do it, so it looks like I'll just have to wait!

Lydia Bennet said...

Thank you, very useful info for others Sandra, I had no idea that was possible. Dennis, can't you use the KDP formatting guide which includes illustrations? Luckily I've not faced this challenge yet... but if I wanted to epub Changing Age, Changing Minds, which I sent you, it would be a shame to lose the pics.

CallyPhillips said...

Hi Sandra. You say that epub is not picture friendly. I have a feeling that if you use Sigil (which is the only way I think is sensible to format for epub - and btw means that in the click of a click you can also convert to kindle, pdf and whatever else nonsense you want) - Sigil as text editor you can drop pictures in easy as cut and paste. I have only done it with small images but I believe Kathleen Jones (well, Neil probably!) has done this for her biogs which have pictures. Don't know if they used Sigil or another means. But I do believe the workflow could be - do it in Sigil, then convert using one click Calibre to Kindle and pdf. How to SELL anything other than Kindle though, that's another question. But it SHOULD be technically possible now with enhanced ereader capability. For example my We Wove a Web in Childhood has links to the video for the whole play in it. I could have 'embeded video' (much like putting in pictures' easily enough, it's just it would have cost me money to 'store' the video anywhere else than YouTube AND if they were fully embedded the file size would be HUGE. I'm still experimenting o this though and I think you're right in the basic premise that pictures in ebooks is going to be much more common (and expected?) and so picture books will be bought more. I still can't get my head round who would let a child with sticky fingers of picture book reading age anywhere near an ipad or ereader. To me that's the main objection. But doubtless in the future...

Kathleen Jones said...

Yes, Sandra, I have my very own cyber-freak who converts the books to mobi, e-pub and other extra-galactical formats for mailing into space. Neil uses html - apparently once you set up a template for a book then it's just a case of cutting and pasting in the instructions. This fixes the illustrations in place for almost any format. You no longer have to upload from Word - smashwords for instance will take e-pub. Full instructions courtesy of Guido Henkel. http://guidohenkel.com/ Neil uses Sigil for conversion into e-pub but says that if you use that for the construction of your book from the beginning, it inserts pics and fixes them. Hope that's helpful!

Bill Kirton said...

I think I may have been responsible for the 'How?' question because I have a dozen or so children's stories written, a talented nephew to illustrate them but little idea of how to start. I am, however, curious about the whole process of formatting them for both print and ebook and suspect it would make an excellent displacement activity (and I'm always on the lookout for those). This post and the advice in the comments is all very encouraging but, unfortunately, also leaves me even more aware than before of my ignorance and fear of technology. But it does suggest that all is possible. Thanks, Sandra.

madwippitt said...

Thanks Sandra, although when I saw the phrase 'formatting html' I did start to hyperventilate a little.
Dennis, so far I've got round the illustration thing by dropping the pictures into the text and then saving the whole thing as usual as a .doc and uploading it. It's not ideal, but has worked best so far as full page illustrations with a page break inserted immediately after it.

CallyPhillips said...

I can't do html. I use Sigil. It has a learning curve attached (of course) but it's a 'text editor' which basically just means its like notepad or word or whatever and it does all that html stuff for you. if/when you get 'errors' it can help to dare to do corrections to 'the code' but I managed to do this by checking on forums and cut/pasting answers NOT by learning HTML. I think it's definitely something you could do Bill. Sigil is free and its by far the most robust thing I've used (having tried all kinds of kindle things) and as such is EASIEST when you've learned how to do it. I would recommend it to anyone who is serious about trying to format (and with pics especially) You don't need to be a programmer. You just need to put aside a few hours to work it out. And read the manual!! And try it out on a project when you have a bit of time to play around with it. Using Sigil you can check yourself whether it's epub3 compatible which is what apple require. Smashwords, I have no comment on, I've never used them, precisely because I'd rather take the control and repsonsibility myself. Maybe we should set up some workshops for AE'ers on various 'skills',

Sandra Horn said...

Thank you, everyone - to Sue for tweaking and Cally for the info about sigil, which we (meaning him) are looking into. What is it with blokes called Niall/Neil?