Best way to get started

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Can anyone suggest the best way to get started making eBooks? Every forum I have found, and every book recommended assumes a level of knowledge I don't yet have as an old-time print production artist. What's the best way to begin at the beginning?

It depends on what your goal is.

If you want to convert documents to EPUBs a Google search will yield a fair few tools which will do the job to varying degrees. I personally use either Calibre or Libre Office but, as they're for my personal use, I've never concerned myself with the quality of the output.

If you're looking to understand how to make EPUBs by hand, they're essentially a collection of HTML files.

I'd suggest reading up on the HTML file format - learn how to make a simple web page - it's broadly plain text with a bunch of tags to 'decorate' various parts of the text. For example: The next word is <b>bold</b>. Would make the word "bold" well, bold.

Once you're familiar with how HTML works, look into the CSS file format. It, roughly speaking, provides 'style' (formatting) information to the whole HTML document(s). ie. text size, fonts, line spacing, margins, etc.

Between those two, you've got 90% "everything about" EPUBs covered. The next 5% is understanding that a "foo.EPUB" is just "foo.ZIP" which has been renamed, and a ZIP file is a 'container' - it's a collection of smaller files stuffed together in one larger file.

Some of what I've told you is patiently false but it will (hopefully) point you in the right direction to understanding the nuances for yourself.

If I can suggest a better description of HTML5 tagging -- combined with the epub:type attribute for semantic inflection -- it's to produce structured content that can accommodate multiple reading modalities. Visual presentation and styling is one such, but not the only (e.g., refreshable braille and text-to-speech playback).

Whether you choose to see it as an accessibility issue or not, semantic markup is vital to rich reading experiences. Focus on what things look like and you not only lose an audience, but you lose out as reading systems get more sophisticated in what they can do with your data, as they can only manipulate what they understand.

I realize you were probably just trying to dumb the concept down, but equating tagging to decorating always makes me cringe as it's the wrong foot to get people off on.

To the OP, if you haven't given the EPUB 3 Overview document a read, that might be a good place to start learning, in particular the Roadmap section.

It might be helpful to see some unpacked examples of EPUBs, too. You can browse the source of the EPUB 3 samples project to see how the publications are put together, for example.

In a nutshell, though, one part of EPUB 3 is discovery:

  • the mimetype file never changes and identifies that the container (zip file) contains an EPUB
  • the META-INF directory always includes a container.xml file identifying where package file for the publication is located
  • the package file contains all the metadata, identifies all the resources and gives the default reading order (in the spine)

A reading system uses each of these pieces in order to find and load the publication from the container.

The other part is the content, of course, which can be XHTML5 or SVG.

Hi Matt,

I'll cheerfully concede that much of what I posted was, strictly speaking, false. However OP mentioned difficulty resulting from assumed pre-existing knowledge. The nuances of producing 'good' EPUBs, or content in general, is only relevant within the broader framework of understanding how to create the content to begin with - which is where I was trying to get OP towards.

If he were to come back in a couple of months, armed with enough knowledge to tell me that my original post was full of crap, I'd consider it a success. :)

Matt was being overly modest as a great place to start to understand the details of EPUB is his O'Reilly short book "What is EPUB 3?": (free). While it's specific to EPUB 3, the latest version, and many commercial Reading Systems are still at version 2, the piece gives a great overview about the general structure of EPUB.

That being said it wasn't clear to me from your original post about "making eBooks" whether you *wanted* to understand details of the format. I mean, lots of artists use Adobe Illustrator and Acrobat and InDesign without understanding anything at all at the format level about PostScript or PDF, or Flash without ever looking at a .FLA or .SWF file. Web Standards inc. EPUB are a iittle different because they are designed to be human-readable and (at least theoretically) human-writable, and most workflows involve some level of hand-coding or at least hand-tweaking, But there are a number of EPUB supporting tools that abstract away the format from Sigil to InDesign. My first instinct reading your question would have been to point you at them.

If you are making ePub documents, you should check them using the IPDF ePub validator service. You will get an excellent idea from the feedback how your ePub documents are structured.

If you just want to put mail some notes download some offline web pages for your tablet, is great. They have a bookmarklet that allows you to instantly generate ePub documents from the web page you are looking at. If you want to create original content, but don't need pictures, browse to the on-line generator at

The best viewer is IDPF's own Google Extension - Bookium. Go to the Chrome Web store and download it.

If you have an Apple OSX computer, the Pages program has the ability to convert standard Pages documents to ePub 2 documents. Not all Pages documents can be converted. It is best to use the standard Page ePub template to start with. See "Creating ePub files with Pages" at

For desktop platforms, use a word processor like LibreOffice to create HTML or ODF files. The electronic document management program can easily convert these kinds of documents into ePub 2 or several other formats. The calibre-ebook program and LibreOffice are free to download.

Oops. Not Bookium. Readium. The best viewer is IDPF's own Google Chrome Extension - Readium. Go to the Google Chrome Web store to download it.

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