Thursday, March 8, 2012

Making an eBook

Today The Rumpus Original Poetry Anthology was released by iTunes and is available to buy in their bookstore for 9.99.

This is the first eBook I've designed, and I'm writing this post for anyone who might be interested in taking on a similar project.

The concept that we started with was of a simple, elegant eBook that represents "poetry as you find it on The Rumpus," but adds a few things you don't get on the site: the clean, glossy feel of a book, a tidy organization that brings all the poems and poets together into a cohesive and beautiful (ad-free) piece, and some media features (which actually you could get on the site, and sometimes do).

It doesn't sound like a terribly tall order for an ebook, does it? And yet, it is.

There are certain "market pressures" that are keeping certain ebook formats from being as media friendly as they should be. The epub format is open and accessible, but it's remarkably difficult to integrate video. (It's not impossible, but it requires near-hacker-grade skills to get around all the things you have to get around.) Amazon apparently wants to keep their old text-based b&w Kindles relevant, so they are not friendly to media, despite their new Kindle Fire.

We spent a few months fighting with epubs (and making good progress) when Apple released iBooks Author: a free wysiwyg app designed to make it easy to build books for Apple's iTunes bookstore, iBooks. I downloaded it because it was free and spend a few minutes playing around with it, and decided right on the spot to scrap everything and start over with this new program.

Seriously.

Because it's that much better. Because it makes integrating media that much easier.

"Easy" is a relative term, here. If you're used to making media, working in programs like inDesign or Dreamweaver for example, you will find iBooks Author to be not just "friendly" but cuddly-sweet. If you are a complete novice and have never done any design/publishing work, iBooks Author is still your best bet, but expect a learning curve.

Still, this is a good program: the design of the design tools matters, and iBooks Author wants you to make a book with integrated media. It wants you to include audio and video and nice, glossy images, and links and games and all the rest. It's set up to accommodate these options. And this makes all the difference. You can integrate media into an epub, but you have to fight and scratch and force the issue. iBooks Author invites you to please integrate media, right this way, and all but gives you little kisses as you work.

iBooks Author is not a perfect app. I think that's why it's free: essentially all users are beta testers right now. But it is possible to make a really attractive interactive masterpiece with it. Expect to spend hours and days and weeks of your life on it, yes, that's true of any book, but the results will pay off and look gorgeous, which is not necessarily true of epub.

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