So your designer has finished your ebook file. Before you rush to send your file off to ebook distributors, there’s still one crucial last step to go.
It’s vital to check what your book will look like to your readers when they read it on an e-reader. It will help you spot errors and inconsistencies you wouldn’t otherwise notice. It will also help you to check the reading experience in ways you simply can’t when viewing the file on your computer.
To review your file properly, you’ll need to use Kindle Previewer. This is free software from Amazon and it’s great for seeing how your ebook will look on a variety of devices.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you how to review your ebook. We’ll also give you some tips on what to look for.
As you look at your ebook using Kindle Previewer, you may feel surprised at the difference compared to your printed book. Authors used to ebooks may be delighted (‘It looks just like a professional one!’). But if you’re unused to ebooks, you may find yourself taken aback or even disappointed by some aspects.
When you’re reviewing your file, it’s important to remember that an ebook is not a paper book. In some respects, it’s designed to look similar, but in many ways, it’s fundamentally different. So, as you think about changes you’d like to make to your file, make sure you keep the ebook’s limitations in mind too.
We’ll help you spot the difference between things you can change and things that you can’t later in this article. First of all, however, let’s enable you to view your ebook.
Step 1: View your ebook
You’ll need some software to review your ebook. The file you will receive once your ebook conversion is complete is an epub file. You can’t just open this on a PC as, unlike an image or a video file, there is no software on most PCs which can read an epub file. So we recommend you use Amazon’s Kindle Previewer software which is free to download. Just type “Kindle Previewer” into your browser, go to the Amazon site, and download and install the software. There’s a version for Windows and one for Mac.
Once installed simply drag your epub into the software and it will display it for you. Here’s an example of what you’ll see.
The screen is divided into three areas. On the right is the current page. In the middle is a thumbnail of several pages, and on the left the viewing options and the table of contents.
Top left are the Preview Options. You can view your ebook as it will appear on a Tablet, a Phone or a Kindle E-reader. You can change the orientation and you can also select both the font and the font size.
This really is the best way to see what your ebook will look like when your customers buy it and load it onto their device.
Step 2: Understand ebook limitations
Before you review your ebook and make notes on any changes you want, it’s worth reminding yourself what an ebook is and what it is not. By this we mean, it’s important to think about which aspects of an ebook will look similar to a printed book, and which aspects have been made deliberately different. Have a look at the following article on what is an ebook for a really helpful discussion about this.
Understanding this should help keep your mind focused on the areas where you have choices and control. It will help you see which things are flexible and worth changing, and which things are simply fundamental to how an ebook works. When it comes to ebooks, it’s definitely a case of picking your battles as there are something you simply won’t be able to change.
Here are just a few examples:
Fonts. These will be different to your printed book. Many of the fancier fonts that designers use for book typesetting or cover designs are either incredibly expensive to license for use in an ebook, or not available at all. As a result, designers will typically replace particularly stylized heading fonts in an ebook with similar, freely licensed versions. Remember too that the main body text in an ebook will vary from device to device. This one is completely out of your control; each reader will set the font they prefer on their own device.
Layout. Unfortunately, certain layout features available in a printed book are not possible within a reflowable ebook. These include things like wrapping text around images, including images within paragraphs, background images, and text in multiple columns.
Keeping things together. Often authors hope to keep certain bits of text, headings or images ‘together on the page.’ The problem is that reflowable ebooks don’t have pages. Instead, the text flows freely from one screen to the next, depending on the size of your screen and your settings. If you changed device or reduced the font size, you’d find each ‘page’ looked entirely different. As much as it would be nice to keep things consistent, this often causes problems on e-readers. Trying to force certain things to stay together on the screen can result in lots of empty spaces throughout the rest of the ebook.
Color. Some e-readers are color, and some are in black and white. The most popular e-ink Kindle devices only use black text and images. This means that any elements of your printed book that were in color will now appear in grayscale instead.
Contents. If you have a contents page in your printed book and decide to include the same in your ebook, just be aware that readers will view and use it slightly differently. Designers often hyperlink text in an ebook contents page so that readers can navigate to the right section of the book. However, because of the integral design of an ebook, there is often no need for a separate contents page at all. Instead, you can integrate the table of contents into the ebook software itself. Readers can access this inbuilt navigation from their menu at any time, rather than needing to turn to a specific page.
Flexibility. It’s important that designers are free to optimize your ebook to work on the widest range of devices. This means that it’s best not to try and over constrain your ebook to suit the specific device you happen to view it on and the specific text size you are reading in. While any changes might make the ebook look perfect for you, it is now likely to be less than ideal for people viewing it on other devices.
Step 3: Mark any changes clearly
If you’ve spotted anything that does need to change, the next step is for you to mark those changes nice and clearly. You and your designer both need to feel confident that you’re looking at the same thing.
This is particularly tricky with a reflowable ebook. With so many devices and viewing choices, it’s unlikely that two people will see the same things in the same place and the same way. As we’ve said, you can’t use pages as a measure of position on an ebook. An iPad might show 160 pages or screens’ worth of material for a book, whereas a smaller Kindle screen might show 200 for the same material. Things will be in totally different places and positions.
As a result, the best way to ensure everyone is looking at the same thing is to add a PDF comment to your book file. This will let you explain what changes you need at exactly this position in the ebook. PDF comments make problems nice and clear to your designer so they can easily find and fix any issues in your book source files. See the following article on how to use pdf comments well: http://www.wordzworth.com/blog/add-comments-to-pdf/
Finally, it’s worth being aware that when a designer converts your book to an ebook format, they’ll convert all the text into reflowable HTML. When this happens, it occasionally means that a line of text breaks in an odd place or the e-reader misinterprets a symbol as something else.
Designers will quality-check the file for this sort of thing, but they won’t have time to read every line of text and will occasionally miss something. If this happens, just let them know, and they should quickly fix it for you.
You might also want to check that you’re happy with the positioning of any images in relation to the text. If your original print book had a particularly complex layout, then the designer will need to have made some choices around these. It’s worth checking that you’re happy with any changes and understand why things may look different, so flag it up and ask if you need to.
A final word
Reviewing your ebook is your chance to see your book through your readers’ eyes. With digital book sales growing, creating a great ebook experience has never been more important. And if you don’t own an e-reader yourself, now might be the time to consider getting one! Prices have come right down, and there’s a lot to be said for their flexibility and convenience. If nothing else, it will help you see what your book will look like and feel like to a reader. For an author, this is an essential step to help you build a connection and understanding with the people who will drive your sales and your success.