Wednesday, 15 June 2011

ePub - Children's St Lucia

I attended an Apple Regional Training Centre conference last week and was introduced to the ePub (short for electronic publication) format. It is an open source book format accepted by many reader apps. Apple iBooks will use it, so apparently will the Sony reader and apps such as Stanza and Kobo, hopefully loads more that are listed in Wikipedia though I have not started trying it on anything other than the iPad and iPhone yet. The file extension is .epub.

I have seen lots of a huge range of genre adult literature for all of my book reading apps, some free, some paid for and definitely in large numbers but have not seen loads of children books available. Admittedly children’s books need much more in the way of images and video, maybe sound files to make them interesting but unless they work out to be massive in files size so that they are hard to download I can’t understand why!

I decided to try to see what the benefit of using the ePub format instead of a website is. In the dim, distant past, I wrote several websites for schools.  These days however, I wonder if a format suitable for use on personal devices may be more useful - still undecided on that one as this is my first experiment. Also, looking towards the future I am not sure whether I should try to start developing apps or books! I have not worked out which is the best format for what.

This is a short account of my issues, if anyone is making an ePub book there may be bits here to help!

Very early Yesterday morning I started an ePub book on a topic which I created a website for years ago. I still have suitable images and video, so in theory it was going to be a quick test... I soon discovered there is no such thing as a quick test!

Having done the hour training session on my Macbook I needed to replicate the set up on my iMac - first problem how did I import the template into Pages! Having achieved that I started writing.

On the course we were told clearly to have one image and one lump of text on the page then move on to another page... I did that! No-one could say why, the tutor just said that that more “went funny, err did funny things.” I imported images and wrote a few words about each one. Next I added video files and a link to a Google map. I set the floating bits to inline - was told that is essential!  Saved - exported to an ePub - No, no, no you can’t do that! No clue why, but it was not acceptable.

I guessed that it may be the video format, so imported the videos into iMovie, exported to Quicktime and, success, my ePub book exported.

I synchronised my ipad to see it - hmmmm - okay but it neededs loads more work. Most titles were on the wrong page, there were huge gaps and an empty page. It had doubled the content on one page and that looked good.

So - back on the computer I doubled the content on the pages, two headings, two images, two bits of text. It looked better, a bit more like a book.

I added it to the iPad - and - it still looked dreadful and the titles were still on the wrong pages. Pictures or videos were placed inside text and all sorts of strange things. Half pages were mixed up on the wrong pages, something I would have thought was impossible.

So - back to the drawing board. Version number three was back to very short pages, as recommended, just a photo and some text, but, it still failed.

I realised that at the end of a passage of text the cursor needs to be on the next line down or it thinks the picture, video, link or whatever goes at the end of the line. Hitting the in-line status for a picture then places it in the middle of the last line of text, if there is not a new line after the image it carries on the text from below. I also thought that as the pages were short to have them centered was really going to look better. So I added a few space at the top and between items, it all looked lovely on Pages - but disastrous in ePub...

I decided that as several of the headings were on the wrong pages it had to be something to do with page breaks, took them all out, put them all back... experimented with space, took them all out, put some back - tried all sorts. By this time I had probably published it 20 times and nothing improved it.

I knew it was driver trouble - though I was getting cross with the software by then. I was telling myself to think logically - I had homed in on spacing and line breaks but nothing made a difference, text from the next page entered the bottom of the page before the line break in several cases.

I was on the verge of giving up but thought of one more thing - I started to check the styles of each line - and - though my headings on two pages were the same size and colour as the other headings, they were called something different...

The styles are the key! As soon as each line was the right style it published and looked reasonable on the iPad - not nearly so good on the iPhone and the videos that play on the iPad don't play on the phone.

So I have my first short ePub made, it is called Children’s St Lucia, it is 12.3 MB.
Each time there is a line under a photograph saying who took it and it is on the left, it should be centered, each image should be centered. I have tried everything I can think of - centering the line before and after as well - nothing changes them.

At this point I am giving up for a while. The software is flaky! It is not just driver trouble.

However, taking into account it is never going to look like I want it to look it is still an easy way of making books for the iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone. It should also work on other devices...

If anyone has time to test it on any device and tell me which ones it works on, which it doesn’t etc., I would be really grateful. We could all learn whether it is worth developing books for children with it or whether or wait ;-) To download the book Click Here, add it to your book library and synchronise with any device having a suitable reader :-)

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