Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reverse Engineering ePubs

When you publish an ebook, you should study what others have done. There are some serious adults out there who can do some marvelous things in ebook design. And when you try to do the same, it can end up looking lame. The way to save yourself from looking lame is to learn what the serious adults did and so something similar.

I am a firm dis-believer in DRM. I think it is the tool of the devil and I will never willingly use DRM in anything that I publish. Moreover, DRM is something that one can easily defeat with just a fair amount of Googling. I mention DRM not because I want a flame war but to explain why you might not be able to reverse engineer some of the smart-kids' ebook designs. If you try to study an ebook that's DRM encrypted, you'll have to first defeat the encryption.

I think the great strength of Sigil is how well it works at opening up an existing ebook and showing you its structure. Sigil reads and writes ePub files. But what if the ebook you want to study is in MOBI (Kindle) format. Not to worry. Load the ebook into Calibre and ask it to convert from MOBI into ePub. You do use Calibre to manage all your ebooks, don't you? I've even heard rumors that those sneaky Russians have a way to circumvent DRM with a Calibre plug-in.

Once you have an ebook unencumbered by DRM, open the ebook's ePub file in Sigil and look around. You'll see a table of contents, a cover, content, and metadata. Take notes of what you see.

For instance, study the copyright page of your ebook. How can you make yours look cool and professional? What Tor Science Fiction did was to create an image of exactly the right size and on this image they put text and line-art consisting of the requisite info in the perfect typeface and size. Good idea. I can do the same in my ebook's typeface with my ebook's text.

How about the metadata for your ebook? What should you put in? Grab two or three other ebooks and look at what those guys included. Just make sure that your exemplars should be comparable to your own ebook. If you're making a cookbook, don't study a thriller's metadata. And if you're making a thriller, don't glom onto a cookbook's metadata.

Pay attention to the sequence that the other guys used to organize their ebooks. Do you really need to put the Table of Contents at the front of the ebook? Or the title page? Often times people will look at the excerpt at the front of your work. You don't want this clotted up with a bunch of non-prose that doesn't help the reader toward a buying decision.

Do your chapters have titles that look like "Chapter One" or "The Adventure Begins"? Which do you want to appear in your Table of Contents? What did someone smarter than you do in a similar circumstance?

If you see an ebook that looks amateurish, notice what it is that makes it look that way. Then look at a professional ebook to find out how it creates the opposite impression. Usually, when I see an ebook that looks amateurish, it doesn't have a snazzy enough cover. This is why I prefer to hire out cover design.

The main thing you want to do from this step is to build up checklists of things you don't want to forget to put in your ebook, and to raise questions for which you need to research the answers you'll need later.

(You can find the bullet-point outline of How To Publish An Ebook here.)

1 comment:

Those more worthy than I: