Monday, March 30, 2015

How to “Check” Your Newly Minted EPUB

Guess what I found!

Before I go any farther, I want to back up and share something I recently discovered while checking out e-books at the various distributors’ sites. Last month I said:

Since I’ve read through all my contracts, I know that not every distributor will allow links in my e-book to be active. I make a Storyist copy that contains hot links (for iBooks) and one that doesn’t (for Nook, Kobo, and Kindle). I add this to the file name so I can tell them apart.

Well, imagine my surprise as I was noodling around at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble to discover that there are e-books for sale with hot links in them! Some of the e-books published by big publishing houses have only their web address in the e-book, while others provide links to the author, too. Some indie authors have their web info in there while some don’t. I’m sure there’s been some change to the contracts since I signed on last year, just check out the most current contracts which you’ll be reading anyway.

Now on to this month’s entry.

Last time we ended with a completed EPUB created by Storyist software. As I mentioned, there is one last check that will ensure my EPUB will be accepted by the various distributors. To do this, I need to run it through a program called epubcheck.

First of all, keep in mind that an EPUB is a form of publishing unencrypted reflowable digital books and publications. An EPUB is known as an open standard format, it can be read by a wide range of e-readers and computers. I’m pretty sure Kindle is the only major e-reader that doesn’t support EPUB. That’s why the format Amazon uses for Kindle is called a “closed” format. You can only read Kindle books on a Kindle or with a Kindle app.

The idea for EPUBs has been around for almost 20 years. An oversight organization called The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) has even been established. According to their website, IDPF is the global trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing and content consumption. They’re the ones who created a way to validate EPUB files, to ensure the files could be read on a wide range of e-readers. Their experts develop EPUB specifications in what is known as an "open source" manner. Basically, that means the working site is accessible to the public. 

Again, I’m no computer expert but by using epubcheck, I can validate the files Storyist put together to form my EPUB. If the files aren’t in a certain order, then the e-reader won’t be able to present them in legible format. From my experience, the best way to ensure your EPUB passes muster is to make sure the manuscript is clean and keep to the basic style sheets in Storyist. 

There’s no reason to get fancy with e-books because all it takes is a tilt of the device and your manuscript looks completely different. I’m not interested in dazzling my readers with cute touches, I’m interested in offering them a good story that doesn’t make them frustrated because of glitches. Plus, I want to be savvy enough to update versions as needed.

A Word of Caution

The link below will take you to the IDPF site for downloading the epubcheck. A word of caution, this is where the experts work. The latest version may not be devoid of problems. Frankly, I’m using version 3.0 until my EPUB gets bounced repeatedly. Why? Because I ran my first EPUB through 3.0 with flying colors. A week later, I found the “latest” version and downloaded it. I ran the same EPUB through the update and it came up with all kinds of errors. I spent hours trying to correct those weird file errors and believe me, they were way past my computer level. 

In frustration, I ran my EPUB back through 3.0 and no errors appeared. I took it to Apple iTunes and the EPUB made it through. No problem with Nook or Kobo, either. It looks as if they’re working on version 4 right now, but if you scroll down on their web page, you can find earlier versions for download.

Directions abound on the Internet for how to validate an EPUB on either a PC or a Mac. Since I’m a Mac person, I’m going to walk through how to do it on a Mac.

 Using epubcheck on Mac

(Reminder, my MacBook Pro is running Mavericks.)

Open the Finder window, click on Applications, then Utilities. Find the Terminal app and open it.

When the Terminal opens, you will see a white screen with a couple lines of information such as Last Login and the name of your computer. There will also be a greyed thick insertion point. This is where you start typing.

java -jar

Be sure and type a space between java and -jar, be sure and put a hyphen in there, and be sure and type a trailing space after “-jar”.

Now you’re going to drag the cute little coffee cup “Jar” that denotes the epubcheck program you downloaded and plop it into the terminal window. 

Now type another space. And then drag the EPUB file into the Terminal window and press return.

I used my short story Love To The Rescue for this exercise. You can trace the various downloads in the window below. Starting at java -jar, the epubcheck info was dropped in, then a space, and then I dropped in the Love epub. I pressed return, waited a minute or two for the computer to do its magic and lucky me! No errors or warnings were detected which means my Love to the Rescue EPUB was validated. 

Again, I’m no computer whiz but my Terminal window looked almost like the above (I had to type this up for clarity purposes and didn't put in every bit on info about my computer) when it was finished. The info that shows up here is the path to the location of the various files on my computer. As you can see, I put my epubcheck in a folder on my desktop while the Love file is located in a file labeled distributors in my Saderra Publishing folder. As I mentioned in another blog, it’s also filed under the individual distributor. 
As for what goes on when these two files meet in Terminal, I am clueless! My only goal is to get an error free message after the magic happens. I made that last line green to catch your attention. It's NOT going to be green when you succeed, just good old black and white. 

Now that I have an error free EPUB I should be able to download it into the distributors systems with no problem. Any time I make changes and update an EPUB, I run it through epubcheck.

If you walk away with nothing else from this series, just remember the adage, garbage in, garbage out. Whatever path you take to put your manuscript into EPUB format, it needs to be stripped clean and the formatting kept simple.   

I can’t believe I’ve been writing this “Road to Self or Indie Publishing” for almost a year. While putting the EPUB into distribution is by no means the end, I think I’ll let it be the end of this particular titled series. In the upcoming months, I plan to look at other aspects of indie publishing as well as writing in general. 

For your research pleasure, here's the link to epubcheck.

For older releases just go to the releases in the menu above and across mid-screen (today it was 21 releases) and scroll down to the one you want. I use 3.0 which was released May 21, 2013.