The last couple of months our team was busy preparing and publishing our Field Guide Series for ArchiCAD and SketchUP.
Here is a brief overview of what we have learnt in the process.
Important initial decisions
The obvious first decision is which platform to publish on, i.e. amazon (epub) vs. apple (iBooks and epub) or both. Since our background is mostly Mac based our focus was obvious.
Another consideration is how do you actually get it on the choosen platform. We initially intended to use an Aggregator, however it turns out none of them are prepared to work with iBooks created in iBooks Author.
Getting registered with iTunes Connect (yes you need a US Tax number), turned out to be reasonably easy although we are still uncertain as to what exactly the implications tax wise are – both the Australian Tax Office and Apple are less than helpful in this regard.
Format > iBooks vs. ePub
Having decided early on that we would initially focus on the Apple iBook Store, we thought we would try to make best use of Apples iBook Author (iBA) and its promise of interactive features, which we think are perfectly suited to the touch interface of iPhones and iPads. In the process of testing these interactive iBA widgets, we quickly discovered that getting them to work properly took too much time and resources away from preparing the actual content for our Field Guides. In addition whilst researching interactive iBooks, we realised that even Apple itself publishes its ‘iBooks’ with rather limited interactive features, which helped us with our decision to ultimately keep it simple. Another positive side effect of this decision was that we could adjust the original iPad only format to work on the iPhone as well.
By the time we got all this sorted Apple also had released Pages 5.5.1, which finally included a much improved epub export, enabling us to mostly bypass iBA and mainly use Apple Pages to achieve our desired result of a practical & straightforward epub document.
As one would expect if you have multiple contributors and reviewers you need a solid collaboration process in place. Unfortunately, Apple still has not much to offer in this regard, e.g. file sharing is since the demise of iDisk not easily possible (btw. Dropbox also has its fair share of problems) and Apple’s Pages does not allow for cross platform online collaboration. Another example of the missing review features is that reviewing draft documents directly inside the iBooks.app although possible, is pretty useless as one can only email these ‘Annotations’ which then however can not be imported into iBooks on another device and instead have to be manually inserted.
So to minimise cross platform conflicts and more loss of precious time, we finally settled on Google Docs (GDocs) – in our defence we initially really tried to avoid the omnipresent giant.
Workflow and Formatting
In terms of workflow, collaboration in GDocs on a simple flow text with annotation, commenting and live editing by several users actually works very well. We do recommend using a 64 bit browser for the larger documents though. The online document can then be exported to a Word doc file to your computer and from there opened or copy / pasted into Pages or iBooks.
When creating e-books using styles to manage how your book displays graphically as well as how it is indexed is essential. This means you need to set and apply a style for the Book Title, The Chapter Title, Body Text, Links, etc. Unfortunately, this formatting didn’t transfer very well from GDocs (or any other software) into iBA. Opening the exported Word docs in Pages worked fairly well, although if you want to use a template for your Pages file you would need to copy and “Paste and Match Style” content from the Word document to your fresh Pages file.
In a nutshell if you want to use GDocs to collaborate, do not waste time formatting text there as you will have to do it again in Pages or iBA. It is also worth mentioning that images will need to be placed again in iBA, as there are several ways to incorporate them (Single images, galleries, interactive images).
We also organised our document into separate sections so we could quickly restructure it by dragging entire sections into the right spot. It keeps formatting intact and avoids errors in cutting and pasting text.
Resizing ePubs and Text Flow
ePub readers can modify font type and size and which fonts are supported depends on the device you’re using. You can embed a specific font, but you need to make sure you are licensed to do so and the font is embedded and coded properly.
Building on styles and setting line spacing we found that you have to pay special attention to when to use a Section break, Page break, Paragraph Break or Line Break. Set line spacing as part of your style and don’t insert extra line or paragraph breaks to make it look right. Those extra breaks will end up in odd places when your ePub is resized for a specific device.
There are also options for styles to for example define whether text stays with the next paragraph or starts on a new page. This is useful if you have paragraph titles that need to stay with the paragraph’s body text.
Test, test, test
We found it useful to test our ePub on different devices as there can be differences. We tested on a Mac, an iPad and iPhone several times before we were sure we caught all inconsistencies.
Although we are still preparing another two ArchiCAD Field Guides, we are in the process of putting the word out via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, our Mailchimp mailing lists and also have started advertising on Dezeen.