Monday, October 17, 2011

My first iBook: Bringing an OP picture book back to life

Readers of E is for Book may recall my post from last February, From out-of-print to ebook—a progress report. Since then, some of you may have wondered if I'd given up on the effort to transform my sea turtle book, Tracks in the Sand, into a digital book. Despite various delays, side trips, and stumbles, I'm happy to say that it's now for sale on the iBookstore, so yay!

The key to making it possible was a new, inexpensive iPad app called Book Creator that went on sale in September. The app allows you to make what is known as a fixed-layout EPUB in the size and format that works for the iBooks app, without having to code (double-yay!) Unlike regular EPUBs that have "reflowing" text and separate images with white borders around them, fixed-layout EPUBs can have text on top of images that are full-bleed (i.e. the artwork can cover the pages completely.) This screenshot shows how a spread looks in iBooks:

Here is an overview of the process of making the iBook, more or less in order:
1) Scan artwork The turtle artwork had been scanned a few months ago so I was partway to the finish line already. I used a desktop scanner…fortunately the pages fit height-wise, though I did have to stitch the two pages into a spread in Photoshop.

2) Revise text and make book plan
I ended up eliminating some pages such as a redundant title page, splitting up some spreads, fixing a couple of minor text errors, adding a sentence to smooth a transition, and abbreviating the afterword. The biggest issue was that the original book had horizontal pages while the native iBooks page is vertical. I discussed the page versus tablet screen size dilemma in more detail in Digital books: Will form affect content? on the I.N.K. blog. It's possible to maintain the book's original page size (requires coding), but it means that the reader either sees letterboxed art with black bars above and below or if zoomed in has to keep swiping to see both pages. I wanted readers to easily see a complete spread when the iPad is held in landscape orientation.

3) Tweak artwork I moved turtles around and performed other Photoshop surgery to keep important parts of the images out of the faux gutter in iBooks. This took the most time…the head of a cute little baby turtle cannot be squinched in the gutter! I set up an InDesign dummy file to allow me to see all the spreads in a book-like arrangement with roughed out text placement. Unfortunately,
at this time InDesign cannot output fixed-layout EPUBs, although it can export the reflowable kind.

4) Save for Web/Devices The artwork was split into single-page jpegs with these dimensions: 816 X 1224 pixels. That keeps it under the maximum size for a single-page image, 1 million pixels. Apple suggests in their iBookstore Asset Guide (available only to approved publishers) that it's better to have two single-page images than one double-page image. Probably helps them to load better; wish I'd read that before doing it the other way first. I used Dropbox to get the jpegs onto my iPad.

5) Apply to be an iBookstore publisher Once it appeared that making an iBook was really possible, I applied to be a publisher on the iBookstore. You need a U.S. tax I.D. number among other things; here is the iTunes Connect Online Application. It doesn't cost anything and took about a week for approval.
In addition, iBooks need an ISBN number, available in the U.S. from Bowker. There also are 3rd party aggregators that you can use instead of doing it all yourself, see this iBooks FAQ page for more info.

6) Prepare layouts I placed all the images and added the text in Book Creator, then previewed the book in the iBooks app. After much tweaking and previewing back and forth, when it was finally, really finished, I used Dropbox to get the epub file back on my computer.
One extra thing that I did was to prepare a special epub file to be the sample on the iBookstore. If you don't, a sample is automatically generated that may not be to your liking. I wanted a longish sample so people could see what they were getting. If you have an iPad, you can download the Tracks in the Sand sample here. Or, in your iBooks app, click on the Store button and search on the title.

7) Upload the iBook Apple provides free software called iTunes Producer in which you provide details such as the author and illustrator name(s), ISBN number, description, category, and so on, then it "packages" all the files for delivery. Once the package was uploaded, it took about 11 days to go live. All iBooks have to go through an approval process.

8) Create buzz So now I just have to figure out how to let people know Tracks is available again…otherwise known as marketing. It ain't easy…for one thing, there are no iBooks review sites that I'm aware of. By all means if you know any turtle-lovers, please spread the word.


If you're interested in adding audio and word highlighting and otherwise tweaking the code, check out Liz Castro's various EPUB guides. If you have any questions I’ll try to answer them in the comments. Thanks for reading!

visit the Tracks page on my web site


  1. You are my hero! Congrats Loreen. Hope it sells millions!

  2. Congratulations! Looks super. I'd guess that a youtube movie should go along to help with the marketing... or so they say.


  3. Thanks, you guys!

    Not sure what you mean John… what movie? It already has a trailer, do you mean me swimming with the turtles or something? LOL

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this information.

    Wishing you great success for this book and all our others!!

    Carolyn Croll

  5. Looks great, Loreen - I'll buy it for my iPad a little later! I am so behind on all of this. Thanks for the quick lesson!

  6. This is fantastic! Congratulations, Loreen! I plan on purchasing it when I get an iPad soon. Wishing you much success with it.

  7. Congratulations, Loreen!!! I love the book trailer... the sounds are so evocative... it is making me want to run out and buy your app :o) And I will. Hope it will just be one of many, many, many, purchases... hopefully even millions... like Maryann said. You are also making me excited about trying out book creator.



  8. Thanks for the comments and you're very welcome! As soon as I played with the Book Creator app, I knew making an iBook was "doable," if you know what I mean.

    By the way, you don't have to publish via the iBookstore, you can sell the EPUB files from your web site.

    Also, the Book Creator dev has said that they're working on a way for authors to add audio files so that the text can be read aloud as each word is high-lighted (or at least I think that's how it works.) iBooks already supports that feature.

  9. Hi Loreen,
    Congrats- looks great. I still don't know why I was not approved by iTunes. Did you set up ISBN with Bowker? Did you give your SS number to Apple or did you create a business tax ID? I have one and submitted that, but got no reply of any sort. This is back in May. I have a Bowker ISBN. I am trying to figure out why I never heard from them at the first application process. I did not get a chance to upload the book itself.

  10. Hi Ruth,

    You don't need any ISBN numbers to apply to be an iBookstore seller. (You do need one ISBN per iBook later for uploading. Bowker is the only direct way to get ISBNs in the U.S.) I used my S-corp tax I.D. number. Apple sent an email that said my application had been approved. No idea what their criteria may be. Perhaps you missed hitting some button and the application was never sent or some glitch like that.

  11. This is so cool. Great job figuring it out and best of luck! I've been trying to figure this out for some time - which direction to go to produce an ebook and this looks doable. Thanks for the tips. How was it working on the iPad? I'm so use to working on the computer that the iPad seems small.

  12. Hi Diane,
    The actual work on the iPad goes pretty quickly because you select/position the artwork, then type/style/position the text, then move on to the next page.

    Re the text, you can paste it in rather than type it on the dinky iPad keyboard.

  13. Congratulations and thanks for sharing these really useful tips! We'll spread the word about your app as far and wide as the sea turtles swim!!

  14. Thanks so much, Janet!

    Just to clarify, this edition of Tracks is not an interactive app, it's an ebook that is read inside the iBooks app.

  15. Thank you so much for explaining your process of creating this lovely iBook for us. I really do need to learn all this stuff, and I know your shared experience will help me when I start to find my way with this new technology.

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your process, Loreen. I'm afraid this exceeds my tecky skills -- but you've inspired me. Best luck...

  17. Great information. And loved the trailer. This is certainly a new and exciting publishing world. Helen