Tools of Change – Practical Ebook Formatting Workshop

Practical Ebook Formatting: Limitations and Optimizations – Joshua Tallent (Ebook Architects) and Phil Frank (Hendrickson)

  • TOC Conference, Monday, Feb. 22nd 9 – 12:30, Mariott Marquis, NYC
  • About 200 folks in the room, 1/2 do the ebook formatting on a regular basis, 1/2 are managing people who do this, and me.
  • I decided to attend this session b/c I know nothing about it ūüėČ ¬†Please keep this in mind as you read my notes.

Phil Frank  РFormatting: InDesign to EPUB and Kindle

Phil provided a detailed demonstration of formatting print books, from InDesign, into various eBook file types. ¬†His tips/tricks are available online. (¬†¬†I’ve never seen this before as I’ve never formatted a print book in InDesign nor an ebook in any format. ¬†Wow is it detailed. ¬†He navigated between an enormous amount of files and programs, cutting and pasting codes and changing file names, zipping and unzipping along the way. ¬†Phil demoed this for us in 30 minutes (kind of like the cooking show where they have the steps of the process done already). ¬†Phil said this process can take DAYS for just one book (InDesign to Kindle). ¬†Those of you who think ebooks should be cheaper than print should take this into consideration, although working from a word file is easier. ¬†An editor I spoke to during the break told me that many finals edits in books are done in the InDesign format, not the Word format, so using the Word file to go to EPUB/Kindle would require back editing of the file, again something that takes time. ¬†A few highlights include:

  • Create a very simple InDesign file.
  • Reduce the number of styles and use minimal html tags – all of these are potential problems when converting to EPUB and Kindle formats.
  • Don’t use embeddable fonts, they usually won’t show up in Kindle or EPUB
  • EPUBs have various files – template.css, toc files, and various xhtml files
  • Joshua has written him a script to clean up a lot of the html tags in the EPUB files like Italic instead of I, etc. ¬†It cleans up the html.
  • Run document through the EPUB check on a regular basis as it will detect errors.
  • Block quotes and hanging indents are handled completely differently b/t EPUB and Kindle.
  • Joshua wrote him a utility to convert the EPUB files to Kindle
  • Kindlegen – detects errors in Kindle files, if you get MOBI file created successfully, you’re doing alright
  • Read Joshua’s book – it’s indispensable
  • images – anchor them to a specific place in the text (Phil uses a blank paragraph) to prevent them from drifting to the bottom of the page, you can anchor a group together (for the caption) or anchor the image to a blank paragraph above the caption paragraph
  • Use CS4 ¬†(this is where the DRM comes into play)
  • Kindle 1 doesn’t use tables, he treats them as images
  • background shading is possible in EPUB
  • small caps is a problem, change these to all caps

Joshua Tallent, CEO – ebook architects

Joshua offered some helpful hints for formatting in Kindle and EPUB format. ¬†He then demoed how various html formats appear on the Kindle and Nook using an Elmo. Many of the things he showed us were very specific – margins, small caps, fonts, hanging indents, etc. Some highlights from Joshua’s presentation are below, notes available online. (


  • DRM issues: ¬†Kindle ID number is hidden inside the device, since users can’t access it, they can’t register it somewhere to allow the purchased book to be read on different devices.
  • Formatting Kindle books from Word can be problematic
  • Kindle is formatted in HTML 3-ish, some CSS, and some proprietary code
  • keep it simple
  • develop a template
  • insert tables as images
  • images 520W by 610 high, less than 64 kb (if not, you could get blank pages throughout the book, a known bug in Kindle)
  • blockquote tags should have no <p> tags inside, the <p> tag will override blockquote


  • EPUB format – lots of available devices for viewing, a good standard – ¬†
  • epub file is basically a zip file with an .epub extension
  • internal files are XHTML,CSS, and some XML
  • minimize the advanced formatting in order to be interoperable
  • get familiar with format
  • build a template
  • stick to simple formatting that works on the broadest range of devices (reminds me of metasearch tools in libraries)
  • for devices you have control over, make things more interesting

4 thoughts on “Tools of Change – Practical Ebook Formatting Workshop”

  1. Sue,

    Thank you very much for attending the session and for writing up this summary!

    Michael, you are right, you can certainly create eBooks with hand coding. I do that with all of the conversions for my clients. However, Phil’s part of the presentation was not a “you must” but a demonstration of what he does so that others in the same boat can get a sense of the process. There are many roads to the same goal, but ePubCheck stands in them all as gatekeeper.

    – Joshua

  2. Thanks, Sue, for the excellent summary. There are some superb tips in these notes.
    It might also be noted that ebooks for EPUB devices and for Kindle can be formatted using an HTML editor (many are free) and “hand coding” — InDesign is not a requirement. At the end of the process, all EPUBs should be checked and validated by the EPUB Validator provided by Liza Daly’s ThreePress.

    Michael Pastore
    50 Benefits of Ebooks
    Zorba’s Guide to Free Ebooks

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