Layout Tools

Once the writing is complete, it’s time to pull the text and images together into a layout appropriate for publishing. In this case we have two design formats for e-books: ePub and PDF.

PDF Layout Tools

The portable document format (PDF) maintains the layout, formatting and images from the original document regardless of the software used to create it. For projects full of images and design elements where layout and positioning is precise, using the PDF format to distribute your publication is the best choice. The final product can be read on computers and most of the popular e-readers – both devices and applications. It’s easy to create and distribute, but there are concerns related to your readers. A PDF document maintains it layout and formatting regardless of the device or application used to display it. The user does have the ability to zoom in and out to see small details, but reading a large layout on a small screen can be quite a chore.

Creating PDF publications is quite easy since in most cases you will be using a familiar application like your word processor.

  • Adobe Acrobat [Win & Mac] offers all the tools to create and customize PDF publications.
  • PDF Creator [Win] is an open source application that acts like a printer, allowing you to “print” to PDF from any other program.
  • PDF Create 7 from Nuance [Win] provides the tools to create and manipulate PDF publications.
  • Scrivener [Mac & Win (Beta)] can compile your completed manuscript in PDF format.
  • WordPerfect Office X5 [Win] includes PDF tools in each of the suite’s application.
  • iWork [Mac] suite applications all have export to PDF functionality.
  • OpenOffice.org [Win, Mac & Linux] includes PDF functionality in all the suite’s applications.
  • Scribus [Win, Mac & Linux] is an open source page layout application that includes a full complement of PDF creation tools.

ePub Layout Tools

The ePub format is more text-centric and although it can handle images with the text, your formatting options are very limited. ePub is based on HTML which, combined with the different screen sizes on reading devices, means you have little control on things like page breaks. If your manuscript is mostly text, ePub is a good option. On the other hand, if your manuscript is full of photos, charts, tables and other special formatting elements, you should publish in PDF to insure your complex formatting is preserved.

From the reader’s perspective, ePub offers more control over font styles and sizes allowing them to choose the sizes and shapes they find most comfortable. Most reader devices supporting PDF publications allow the reader to zoom in on a page, but complex designs can still be too small to read comfortably.

ePub layout is still in its infancy and book designers and authors are still testing its limits. And, while it is used by most e-bookstores, Amazon is a huge exception. Amazon has a book format all their own. The easiest option is to write your project in a standard word processing application, then use a service like Smashwords, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt or Kindle’s Direct Publishing. Smashwords will convert your book into all the necessary formats to get you into all the bookstores while the others are only concerned with their own store.

There are several applications that can be used to create ePub books:

  • Adobe’s InDesign [Win, Mac] is the application used by professional book designers. And, it has the price tag to match.
  • Apple’s Pages [Mac] includes an export to ePub capability.
  • Scrivener [Mac & Win (Beta)] offers both a Kindle and ePub option for compiling your completed manuscript.
  • iStudio Publisher [Mac] also has ePub export but cannot handle images at this point.
  • For the more adventurous, take a look at the open source Sigil app [Win, Mac, Linux] for building an ePub book.
  • Another open source application – Calibre [Win, Mac, Linux] is actually a library management application, but it has a very impressive facility to convert ebooks from one format to another.
  • A new addition – Legend Maker [Mac] makes it easy to build ebooks in both ePub and Kindle formats. It allows you to do the markup – text tags that identify where chapter breaks, images, endnotes and such are placed – in your favorite word processing app then use Legend Maker to compile the results into ebooks ready for placement on any of the ebook stores.
  • There’s even an iPad app for creating graphical books. Book Creator [iPad] makes it easy to create graphical books that can then be shared or even uploaded to iBookstore. While it does provide the ability to position text and graphical elements precisely in the work area, be aware that you are designing a book with the expectations it will be read on the iPad. Not all book readers offer the two-page spread view which is necessary to enjoy the full effect of a graphical book.