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New title: InDesign to EPUB, Kindle, and the iPad

Do you ever wonder (or are you currently struggling with) how you can convert your trade books, journals, whitepapers, instruction manuals and such from a “designed for print/PDF” InDesign format to a digital eBook for the iPad bookstore, the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and other devices? Then I think you’ll love this.

Last month I completed recording a new video tutorial title (two, actually) which I’d been planning (read: researching and revising, sweating buckets over) for over a year. InDesign to EPUB, Kindle, and the iPad was the most difficult title I have done to date because the field is changing so rapidly! Every week or two there would be new publishing venues (e.g., Google eBooks), new software programs (Sigil), new rules (we’re looking at you, Apple). I kept having to revise my outline and push back the recording date at the studios.

Finally in January of this year I took the advice of my producer, the ever-patient Kirk Werner, and simply applied a temporary stoppage on further research. It nearly killed me to turn off the flow of new info! But that was the only way I could actually sit down and develop the final course and its sample files. In February I went in and recorded two versions of the title, one for InDesign CS5 users and one for InDesign CS4 users. Here’s a sample video lesson from the CS5 title, on creating chapter breaks from your InDesign file.

The full titles are here:

I hand-picked the free sample movies on the site, so even if you don’t have a subscription, you should be able to learn a few things. Or, use our free 1-week trial for full access to all the movies.

From Creating to Selling

As usual, I like to start from the beginning, the questions I hear all the time from experienced designers and publishers: What’s an eBook, exactly? What’s the difference between a PDF and an EPUB? What format are Kindle books? How do I buy these things, how do I read them, how do I proof them without buying every device?

Then I go through prepping the InDesign file, including where to get and how to use free InDesign scripts that make the process easier (such as a custom FindChangeByList4EPUB script I built, which you get with the sample files). Then onto exporting to EPUB format and tweaking and testing it – all that fun nitty-gritty stuff like how to create drop caps and pull-quotes, what software to use on Macs and PCs for editing EPUB files, what are some different approaches to creating Kindle books, how can you check to make sure your EPUB file passes validation checks.

Finally, I dive into the topics that I’ve been curious about myself , but haven’t seen covered yet anywhere else: Getting an ISBN. Creating publisher accounts on the Apple iBookstore, the Kindle store, and other resellers so you can upload your books and sell them there. How much do they pay and what if you’re not in the U.S.? Selling eBooks on your web site or blog with ecommerce services that specialize in digital goods.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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28 Comments on “New title: InDesign to EPUB, Kindle, and the iPad

  1. Dear Anne-Marie your InDesign to EPUB, Kindle, and the iPad course is excellent, your work it is most appreciated! Please turn the flow of new info back on. Love to learn more about publishing pictorial books and copyright protection. Best wishes Jorina

  2. If it helpful here are some information:

    Obviously, the difference between ePub and PDF is, ePub is reflowable digital format, where as PDF is not.

    Kindle Previewer is the application where we can view the quality of ePub. It is the clone of Kindle device.

    Kindlegen is the converter provided by amazon to convert Kindle (.mobi) format from ePub. We aware we can export epub from Indesign.

    Also to export to kindle from Indesign directly, there is a plugin to convert provided by amazon.

    The best possible workflow to create ePub for Kindle and iPad is converting ePub from Indesign and then converting it to mobi for kindle. Where as iPad supports the epub format, which in some cases needs Apple itune validator to test with apple server for any sort of resource path error. Working in xhtml file is essential in all the cases to match with the PDF. There are some limitation for Kindle when compared to adobe digital edition.

  3. Thank you dgurubaran, information is always appreciated on the blog. ;-)

    I should point out that I cover everything you mention (and more) in the Kindle chapter of the movie.

    As I show in one of the movies, I found that once you have an EPUB, you don’t need KindleGen … which is a command-line program (Terminal on the Mac) designed to convert EPUBs to MOBI. That’s because the Kindle previewer program can open/convert EPUBs on the fly, and it uses KindleGen to do so. You can see the progress and error log (if any) as it’s doing the converting.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that the best possible workflow is EPUB to to Kindle … it’s definitely the easiest, and it does work fine for simple books. Even then, you’d probably want to open the EPUB and add Kindle-specific formatting before doing the conversion.

  4. @Jorina, thanks so much for the feedback!

    I’ve gotten a couple questions about copyright protection (DRM) from viewers, and have responded with info and links. The whole issue turned out to be just too technical/big for the scope of the title, and had to be jettisoned. (It was in an early draft of the outline.)

    In the meantime, I’ve found this explanation of what DRM for EPUB is and how it works, penned and posted by an eBook production company in South Africa, to be very useful:

  5. Anne-Marie, thanks for all of the hard work you do. I’m looking forward to taking this course over the next few days. You’re awesome!

  6. Great series AM!

    I imagine it must have been tough to record both CS4 and CS5 at the same time.

    I look forward to your updates as this technology matures over the coming months and years.

  7. I’m happy that they let me record the CS4 videos in the first place! It was a risky since Adobe stopped selling CS4 almost a year ago. I don’t know if they’ve done any other titles for older versions, until this one. But … they didn’t like my idea of a general “InDesign to EPUB” title where I’d say “in CS4 you’d this, in CS5 you do that”, and I didn’t like the idea of leaving CS4 users out of the party by only doing the CS5 one, which is what they originally wanted.

    Michael Ninness — nice to have the past Adobe ID product manager now at Lynda as the content vp! — came up with the idea of doing two separate titles … as long as I could do them in one trip out there. And that’s what we did. I’ve been keeping tabs and the number crunchers tell me that it looks like the CS4 title “has traction” — which is lynda-ese for “you might earn out your advance.” ;D Long live the long tail!

  8. Anne-Marie thank you for the DRM for EPUB link I found it most informative. I look forward to reading the 2011 Print and ePublishing Conference in Washington DC Post-conference Tutorials!

  9. I just finished the CS5 tutorial on Absolutely fantastic. Extremely informative. All my efforts to learn CSS are finally paying off. (I could never quite get my websites to work, even though they looked pretty.)

    I had started reading Liz Castro’s EPUB: Straight to the Point from Peachpit and just never really “got” it. But after watching your video tutorial, I started to really figure out the rhyme and reason to the .epub files. (Thanks for pointing out her book and ePub blog. I didn’t know about them.)

    Anxious to view your “Digital Publishing Suite for InDesign CS5” tutorial. Working on its outline yet?! ;-D

    I unzipped a .folio file and saw that it also has the mimetype, META-INF directory and ? instead of OEBPS, it’s filename_Stack. So, hopefully that’s right around the corner.

  10. Just finished your and I would have pulled my hair without it or at least given up. Thank you so much.

    I am ready to upload two small books to Amazon/KDP and did a final look with my Kindle. I see two Cover pages at the beginning. :(

    I reviewed your chapter on formatting for the Kindle, adding the cover just as you did. I originally had the cover image as the document’s first page. I deleted that yesterday when I first viewed this chapter, where you explain the process you used: (Insert image and then create Chapter Break using Sigil).

    Do you know what I am doing wrong? I have been reading forums (Adobe and KDP) but no luck so far. One guy had a similar problem but did not get an answer.

    Thank You so much,
    Sandra Case-Reeves

  11. After I wrote this to you Anne-Marie, I went back into Sigil and deleted the xhtml page that was Semantically called the cover. (down below I had already right-clicked on the cover image and designated that the cover.)

    When I checked the images folder below the image was still there and designated. This fixed the duplicate cover but when I opened up the book in Kindle Previewer, it opened towards the end of the book. Researched some more and added the “startpage code” to the Guide section of whatever doc (I forget the name) and now it opens correctly.

    I think the problem was that I had the cover added into a xhtml page and Semantically called the “cover”and an image in the images folder designated as “Cover”. So I guess that is two covers. I read on one forum that the first cover is used when you first open Kindle and the second for all other times. Which sounds kind of Hokey.

    It works but I am uncomfortable hacking it this way. I have three more books to Kindle-ize so I would like to know which element to make the cover. Or does it matter. If I use the xhtml page, I probably won’t need to add the startpage code to the guide.

    Right? :)

  12. Correct that semantically, you should just have one element designated as the cover. If you use the latest beta of Sigil you’ll be able to view the content.opf file that contains the actual code; earlier versions of Sigil hide this file.

    It’s a little tricky and techy to fully explain here, but it’s covered (with code examples) quite thoroughly in the Kindle Publishing Guide from Amazon, on pp 9-10 of the current version, 1.9. It includes what to do if you need to specify both an XHTML file as a cover (req’d for some resellers) and a JPG as a cover (req’d for Kindle). I linked to the publishing guide in the video but here it is if you missed it:

  13. Thank you for pointing this out. I don’t think I am smart enough to fully “get” it but it explains the two covers.

    I do not know why the book opened at a different location than the front when I deleted the cover xhtml from the front of the book but I will just keep the “start-page” code as is.

    I uploaded the hacked file to Kindle yesterday. It will be interesting to see if their QA kicks it back.

    Thanks again for all your help. You are indeed “Her Geekness”.


  14. Anne-Marie I cannot begin to thank you enough for all the handy hints and tips in your ePub course, it?s wonderful and having the magical Scripts to help along the way is awesome and most appreciated.
    I?m in the midst of designing a picture book with around 1000 images. It?s a simple layout however I have a dilemma trying to figure out what would be the most practical, using the layout to manage the content flow, anchors within the text or the XML Tags.
    I?m using InDesign CS5 on Mac and I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to give me advise on this issue.

  15. I upgraded to 10.6.7 without giving it a second thought, but immediately started experiencing font problems in a variety of applications. The OTF version of Avant Garde Book seemed to be particularly touchy. Word wouldn’t display it, and if I tried to place a Word file that included it into ID CS4, it would hang. Also, ID refused to display anything in the Glyphs window if I selected Avant Garde Book. I had no choice but to downgrade my MacBook Pro to 10.6.6. Now all is well once again.

  16. Anne-Marie, Thanks fo great EPUB in CS5 class on Lynda. I am a super novice with InDesign and you direction was amazing.

    I read the pdf on the ISBN website about assigning ISBN’s to ebooks but I am still a little confused. If I am going to sell ebboks on amazon, nook and kindle and tweek each epub file then upload to appropriate store. So I will have 3 EPUBS that are slightly different. Should I assign different ISBN’s to the three files?

    Thanks in advance for your suggestion. I look forward to learning more from you in the near future.

  17. Now that Adobe has come out with InDesign CS5.5 are you going to update the courses?
    I suggested it to Lynda but it is so soon after your courses were initially published it may not be economical. My hope is you will be able to add a chapter covering CS5.5.

    The original was very informative. So, it was worth while. It answered those questions of “how did my content get so mixed up!”

  18. Ms. Concepcion,

    The course has been a great help. My husband and I have just about finished. We’ve produced a wonderful novel in epub format but we can’t determine from the training how to go about converting a children’s picture book into an epub. Can you advise?


  19. Anne-Marie, Thanks for putting together such a easy-to-understand tutorial on design for the ebook. I am struggling with my first InDesign CS5 to ePub/Kindle conversion, and especially with one issue in particular: is there a way to convert text in a box (either with a shaded background or line around several paragraphs of text) to ePub? Does it need to be considered as a graphic, or is there a workaround so it is still reflowable? Thanks for any advice you may have.

  20. Just completed the Indesign CS5 to epub course, which was a great introduction to epub…no doubt I will reviewing it quite a few times!

    I work for a childrens library book publishers and we produce PDF “ebook” at present, sold through our website alongside printed books. Since our books rely on design, photography and illustration I was reading with interest about Apple’s Fixed-layout format – a kind of middle ground between PDF’s and text based epub.

    I’d liked to see a future title on that subject. Also, if epub’s are essentially mini websites, why does Adobe’s Dreamweaver not the default tool for their creation….a question for Adobe I suppose?

  21. The course is great, but I’m stymied by a couple of things that seem trivial–until I try to do them. One is what to do with lists that are in two columns, separated by a tab. I’ve tried converting to a table for export to ePUB without success. Is there a “quick trick” for converting that to an ePUB (see problem with exporting as an object, which follows).

    But an even bigger problem is taking a nicely formatted page in InDesign, grouping it, and exporting it as an object so it maintains its spacing, rules, and so forth. The text in the ePUB file appears with tiny, broken, gray text. This is in Digital Editions. A friend with an iPad says the text looks fine on the iPad. What is going on? How can I be sure the text is going to be readable? (The file validates, if that means anything.)


  22. Joan: There is no quick trick for 2-column text other than just as you did, which is to convert it to a table. Tables do export to EPUB with default HTML table formatting. But the content in the table cells can’t be too complex (text wrapping around images for example) otherwise it all kind of implodes.

    Re the items you’re exporting as images, I honestly don’t know why they look bad in ADE. Did it come out as an actual image? (Can you find it in the EPUB after cracking it open, and previewing the image?) As I mentioned in the video series, ADE is kind of like a lowest common denominator and you can’t rely on it for final proofing. But it should show images as images.

  23. Awesome Anne-Marie! I am new to epub formatting, and your sample movie above was a great help. I learned something I can use on my current (first) epub project. Your explanation was perfectly clear and understandable. Thank you! :)

  24. And while I’m here, I see that I’ve neglected some of the other comments, sorry! You should check out my latest version of this title for which covers CS5.5. I didn’t write a blog post about it but there is an forum thread about it:

    And yes, I’m working on add’l epub topics, including fixed layout epubs, for release in the near future. :D

  25. This has been a really great course. I am about half way through and it’s really informative and moves at a great pace!

    I do have a question for you. I’ve created character styles for all the chapter titles, but for some reason, when I view the document in Adobe Digital Editions, it’s showing up in a generic font and not the specific font I’ve designated in the character styles. I’ve even created a paragraph style to see if that would help.

    I also tried to export the chapter titles as a jpeg and place it back in the document – which works, but it seems when it’s viewed in ADE and you change the text size of the chapter, that jpeg chapter title remain the same size. So, if I go this route and make it into a jpeg, how can I make it scalable?

    Any input would be much appreciated. I’m at a loss.

  26. @Jordan: Adobe Digital Editions is very limited with fonts; in fact, all ebook readers these days are very limited with fonts. Most completely ignore fonts. It’s just a huge limitation with the technology right now.

    Images do not scale in epubs by default out of InDesign. You can tweak the HTML and CSS to make them scale, but it’s a pretty big pain.

  27. David: Thank you for the reply and info. That is good to know about the font limitations. I was pulling my hair out trying to find an answer.

    I’ll look into scaling as a last resort.

    Again, thank you for the help. Much appreciated!

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