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Publishing e-books

Publishing an eBook

by James Lengel, Hunter College School of Education

What is an ebook?

An eBook is a publication in digital form -- a computer file -- that contains the text (and perhaps also illustrations) of a book, article, or other piece of written work. The magic of the eBook is that it can be read on a computer, and iPod, an iPad, even on a smartphone such as a a Blackberry or iPhone. The rapid rise in eBook readers has made this format very popular over the last year. We hear that for many titles eBook sales outstrip paper copies; we see eBook readers on the train or the plane or at the beach staring silently at their strangle little digital devices as they absorb the plot.

But what about your own book? Or your own lecture notes? Or your instructions to students? Or the article you've just written? Might these find a larger readership in the eBook format? Might this common format be the best way to distribute your work? This article explains why yes might be your best answer to these questions, and shows you how to proceed in creating your own eBooks.

eBooks have come of age in part because of the development and acceptance of the EPUB format, a free and open standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum in 2007. Just about everyone in the digital publishing business -- except Amazon -- has adopted the EPUB format. Authors publish their works in this format, and device-makers ensure that their little machines can display EPUB.

Why should I publish in EPUB format?

EPUB is the easiest and most reliable way for your works to be widely distributed and widely readable, with full copyright protection if you want it. The files are efficiently tiny and easy to send over the internet, post on a web site, or attach to an email. Your readers can choose how to read them: on their computer, on their iPad, on their Nook or Sony Reader or even on their Blackberry or iPhone. The luddites among them can print them to paper if they need to. One format, many devices. You need not worry about fonts, formatting, layout, or any of the glitches that arise with proprietary file formats such as Microsoft Word or PDF. Your reader chooses the font, page layout, text size, and style that best fits the device he's using or the setting she's in.

With advanced devices like the iPad, the EPUB format allows your work to take advantage of certain educational features that can enhance the reading experience. Imagine your students being able to click on a word, any word in your text, to see its definition, or hear it pronounced, or look it up in the encyclopedia. Imagine your visually-impaired readers being able to listen to your book, all without your doing any extra work. All you need do is publish your work in the EPUB format; the device applies the extra features as the reader wishes.

How do I create eBooks?

First, write something worth publishing. Write it in any word-processor you want, but don't do any formatting -- use only plain text. Avoid repeated spaces, tabs, fonts, centering, tables, headers, footers, page numbers, and special effects. Keep it simple. On Windows, use Notepad; on Macintosh, use TextEdit or Pages. If you need images, insert them as inline images. Save your writing in plain text format. Next, convert your work to the EPUB format:

  • If you are using a Macintosh, the easiest way is to use Pages, part of Apple's iWork suite. Open your work in in Pages. Then from the menubar choose File --> Export --> ePub.


  • From Windows or Macintosh or Linux use Calibre. This program can be downloaded free from the Calibre web site. Insert your work into Calibre by clicking the + icon at the upper left. After it's loaded. select its name in the list, then click the convert books icon (with double arrows).


  • You may send your work to one of the online sites that does the conversion for you, such as 2EPUB or

No matter which method you use, the result is a file with an .epub extension. These are compact, cross-platform files, easy to email to your correspondents, to post on your own web site or on Moodle or Blackboard, or to hand off on a USB disk.

How do I read eBooks?

  • On your computer, you can read the eBooks you just created in Calibre, Stanza, or Adobe Digital Editions. These programs are available for free online download.
  • If you have an iPad, you must first move the file from your computer to the iPad using iTunes. Use iTunes to set your iPad for manual synching. Then just drag the eBook EPUB file from your computer to the iPad icon in iTunes. It will show up automatically in the iBooks library on the iPad.
  • If you have an iPod or iPhone, you must first move the file from your computer to the iPod or iPhone using iTunes. Use iTunes to set your iPod or iPhone for manual synching. Then just drag the eBook EPUB file from your computer to the iPod or iPhone icon in iTunes. It will show up automatically in the iBooks library on the iPod or iPhone.
  • For other mobile devices, the methods for moving eBook files from your computer to the reader varies; follow the directions in the user manual for the device.